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Full text of "With the British on the Somme"

THE 

RUHLEBEN 

PRISON CAMP 

A Record of Nineteen 
Months' Internment 

BY 

ISRAEL COHEN 



With 29 Illustrations and a Plan 
Demy 8vo. 7s. 6J. net 

A COMPREHENSIVE 
and vivid account of the 
conditions at the Ruhleben 
Camp, by Mr; Israel Cohen, 
late Berlin correspondent of the 
" Glasgow Herald/' who was 
interned there for nineteen 
months. The book describes 
all the features, phases, and 
episodes of the Camp life from 
the outbreak of war. It in- 
cludes the author's threefold 
experiences in a Berlin prison, 
is enlivened throughout by 
numerous anecdotes, and con- 
tains many striking illustrations. 




METHUEN & CO. LTD. LONDON 






- 



Digitized by the Internet Archive 

in 2012 with funding from 

Boston Public Library 



http://archive.org/details/withbritishonsomOOthom 



WITH THE BRITISH ON 
THE SOMME 



WITH THE BRITISH ON 
THE SOMME 



BY 

W. BEACH THOMAS 



METHUEN & GO. LTD. 

36 ESSEX STREET W.G. 

LONDON 



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m 40*n 



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First Published in igif 



TO 

THE SUBALTERN 



CONTENTS 



PART I 

:hap. 

I. Before the War . 
II. The Soldier and the Seer 

III. Steps to the Somme: (i.) Movement 

IV. (n.) Stagnation 

V. (in.) Expectancy . 



PAGE 

I 

5 

14 
22 
29 



PART II 

I. The Coming Event 
II. July i : From the Hill . 

III. July i : From the Field 

IV. July i : The Issue of the Day 
V. On the Battle-field 

VI. An Earlier Field 
VII. Over the Parapet 
VIII. The New Fighting 
IX. The Six Woods . 
X. The Village 



45 
56 

65 
76 

94 
115 
123 
141 

153 

176 



viii WITH THE BRITISH ON THE SOMME 



CHAP. 

XI. The Open Field . 
XII. Coming Out 

XIII. Tanks and other Engines 

XIV. Through Prisoners' Eyes 
XV. The Final Field . 

XVI. Epilogue > 



PAGE 
191 

205 

219 

233 
260 

277 



NOTE 

I have to thank the Proprietors of the Daily Mail — to whom I owe 
many thanks on many accounts — for leave to publish those parts of 
this book which have appeared in that paper. A great part of the 
book has been re-written. 



WITH THE BRITISH ON 
THE SOMME 

PART I 

CHAPTER I 
BEFORE THE WAR 

IN the summer of 1912 an English socialist of 
some fame in the world of letters was re- 
turning home through France. On the train 
he made acquaintance with a highly educated 
German of a social type scarcely known in England. 
The man was a merchant, an imperial politician, 
a commercial traveller of the higher sort, and in 
some measure a spy — a spy of character and 
tendencies, a political psychologist who took back 
to Germany information of the trend of other 
people's ways and habits. His constant pleasure 
was to discuss national traits and world politics. 
With the cold and cruel logic that mark one side 
of the Prussian character, he proceeded to sketch 
for the edification of his English companion the 
course of the impending war. 

And he spoke by the book. His prognostics were 
1 



2 WITH THE BRITISH ON THE SOMME 

verified to the letter in many details. He was 
wrong^only as to issues. He told how the German 
army would pour across Belgium and swamp 
France. Nor did he omit to give practical details 
of the material preparations. Wooden platforms, 
so he said, had been manufactured in sections for 
the purpose of lengthening the little platforms at 
particular local stations in Belgium. 

The tale would have been very distasteful to his 
companion, who was what we call a pacifist, if he 
had not regarded the whole discussion as a mere 
academic thesis ; and in that temper he joined 
issue. " What will Britain be doing all this while ? " 
he asked. At the challenge the German, who was 
on his way to accept the hospitality of an aristocratic 
house in England, unfolded his belief in the utter 
decadence of Britain, illustrating his theme with 
examples from the home of his host. Such young 
men, said the German, are of no use to their country ; 
and the nation that encourages them to shoot and 
hunt and play games and to drive motors is too 
selfish and too lazy to fight. 

Three years later, after the first harvest of war 
had been reaped, I went to seek the grave of 
one of these young Englishmen. He had 
sought a commission before the war was a week 
old and joined one of the best of all our fighting 
regiments. Before many weeks were over he was 
recognized even in that company as a soldier of 
exceptional parts. He had made himself expert in 
the machine-gun and in bombing. Throughout 
the most desperate and miserable period of the 
fighting in the mud of Flanders he was never any- 



BEFORE THE WAR 3 

thing but merry and keen. He was one of the 
few men that ever I knew who enjoyed the war 
and the exercise of his vitality in such a field. 
Whatever he may have felt, for he was kind and 
affectionate by nature and a great lover of children, 
he never showed to his companions a sign of fear 
or reluctance or softness. " Whom the gods love 
die young." He was shot dead in the defence of 
a German trench that his company had captured 
against heavy odds. Where he fell, there he was 
buried, far from the many acres he would one day 
have owned. He was rich and strong and comely ; 
and made the supreme sacrifice. The nation that 
is decadent in his fashion may gladly embrace the 
German accusation. It was no accident that he 
wrested this wretched trench from a stronger force 
of the apostles of the art of war. The formula, 
baldly stated again and again in German histories, 
" We are the greatest people because we are the 
most warlike," went by the board once again during 
that fight for the muddy ditch in Flanders. The 
better|man won. 

One other anecdote. Three weeks before the 
war an English trades unionist and internationalist 
went to Hamburg for a conference convoked to 
discuss internationalism and the solidarity of 
labour. The Englishman had previously persuaded 
the Hamburg workmen to organize co-operative 
shops, and they began to prove successful beyond 
all German expectation. Presently the military 
authorities descended, visited the organizers, took 
a complete census of horses and carts, offering a 
small retaining fee. At the same time these 



4 WITH THE BRITISH ON THE SOMME 

officers made a record of every machine in the 
district and instructed the owners in the best and 
quickest method of converting the machinery to 
the manufacture of war material. 

All this was known to the trades unionists of 
Germany. 

Because of this knowledge, or in spite of it, no 
single deputy of the German socialist group present 
at the conference could be persuaded to vote for 
a motion in favour of international peace, 
though the discussion was purely abstract and 
academic. The pacifists themselves believed that 
the world could not compete with Krupp and the 
lesser Krupps in war as in peace, and had definitely, 
if not always consciously, accepted the policy of an 
aggressive war. They felt no doubt that a quick 
and thorough victory would follow and would ensue 
the paradise of world dominance. The prospect 
was too fair to reject. Even the best succumbed 
to the enticement of the dream. When August 
came the socialists in the Reichstag cheered the 
Chancellor to the echo. 

All the world that loved peace could do nothing 
else but fight a people of such a mood and temper. 



CHAPTER II 
THE SOLDIER AND THE SEER 

EVERY one who, not being a soldier, writes 
about war, sees more of its pomp and circum- 
stance than its dirt and stagnancy. If anyone 
were to write of it as it is at its worst — as it was in 
the mine holes at St. Eloi, where strong men fell 
exhausted within a hundred yards from their 
starting-point — as it was in Devil's Wood, where 
bodies lay thick — as it was in the crowded 
trenches down the hill towards Le Sars, where 
more men were buried alive than shot dead, then 
man and woman would not endure to read the 
tale, if anyone could endure to write it or consent 
to publish it. Nothing is written, even in Zola's 
Debacle, as unendurable as half that our men 
suffered up to the second battle of Ypres and 
after. Perhaps the worst ought to be told to 
the end that, on the way to the " far-off divine 
event," men may be finally sickened of war and 
feel its bestiality in their veins for the rest of 
their lives. 

Yet only a few men could so write it, and they 
must come from the ranks of those who have them- 
selves known the worst. If written as an imparted 



6 WITH THE BRITISH ON THE SOMME 

tale, it would be no more than morbid, unwhole- 
some, false. 

In the following account of what I have seen and 
experienced during the later part of the war, I do 
not propose to attempt to tell an unpleasant tale, 
to underline horrors, to double dye hospital scenes, 
to accent failures and impress death and wounds. 
But it is the duty of every reader of a war book to 
feel as he reads that war is war, that every " glorious " 
victory or " magnificent " resistance or " masterly ' 
retreat means the extinction of life and a sum of 
pain beyond computation. Nothing imaginable is 
worse than the atmosphere of trench warfare. Men 
crouch in mud and are pashed out of existence 
by bits of metal thrown from miles away. The 
chemicals that explode destroy the hearing, displace 
the heart, set the nerves in a quiver which may last 
lifelong. To pain is added madness, to wounds 
suffocation. Even when men charge in the open 
and taste for a moment the ecstasy of struggle, 
they are usually so weary from want of sleep that 
life is already a burden, and as soon as the victory 
is won, the crouching in the mud begins again, and 
often hunger and thirst are added. Modern war 
is of this nature. Every man hates it, save one in 
ten thousand whose " faculty for storm and tur- 
bulence " is beyond the normal, or whose passion 
against the enemy is supreme. 

Yet war is wonderful as well as gross, majestic 
as well as muddy. That full sentence of Napier's, 
"With what a majesty the British soldier fights,' ' 
goes ringing in the head even when a knock-kneed 
soldier from the slums falls gasping in the mud at 



THE SOLDIER AND THE SEER 7 

the bottom of a crazy ditch. Humour and good 
humour laugh on the parapet of death, and health 
sprouts from the centres of mud and reek. Ideals 
of faith and loyalty shine through the curses and 
blasphemy that often pour from the mouth of the 
fighter. Even the most insensate soldier will 
religiously exclude from his letters home anything 
that might breathe alarm or hint danger. What 
war is morally, it is also aesthetically. Its grandeur 
— to the eyes, though never to the mind — may be 
overwhelming. It may even be pretty or, as soldiers 
say, " amusing." Its contrasts cover the field of 
contrasts. But, the nearer, the uglier, is the rule; 
and soldiers have nothing more irritating to endure 
than the pictures of battles as they seem to distant 
observers. I write with one special contrast in 
mind. One evening I had the news that just 
before dawn our troops were to attack an intrusive 
angle of German trench at St. Eloi. The only 
chance of seeing anything of the fight was to climb 
one of those mounds, rather than hills, which some 
mole-like upheaval has raised on the plains of 
Flanders. All that I saw during this night and 
morning was of surpassing charm. A sensitive 
woman would have enjoyed every moment. Nature 
and art were combined to invest the spectacle with 
splendour. The sun rose blood-red. The shrapnel 
hung like clouds painted by old masters to hold 
mediaeval angels. The horizon glittered with 
firefly sparks. In spite of the tumult the first 
songs of spring . were twittered in the hedgerow. 
Good news reached us. All was well with the 
world. 



8 WITH THE BRITISH ON THE SOMME 

Such the semblance. What the reality ? The 
soft and sticky ground at St. Eloi had been tossed 
up as loosely as hay behind the tedders by one 
mine after another. The sloping sides of the great 
hollows were further fretted with shells and bombs, 
till the earth was crumbled out of all consistency. 
Rain had fallen and reduced the carious particles to 
a state of foul swampiness, to a Slough of Despond, 
where men waded to the hips and only the strongest 
could cross. In this cockpit the Royal Scots and 
others charged and struggled. They saw their 
wounded sink out of sight. A friend, struggling to 
rescue a friend, sank himself, and the two looked 
across at one another, each helpless. For a day and 
a night and a day under the rain of heathenish shells 
and grenades our men wrestled to turn these pits 
into fortresses and keep back the enemy from a 
few paltry yards of Flanders. Not once or twice 
men have been drowned from sheer weariness in 
the water of the trenches. These men were drowned 
in mud. In primeval slime they fought like lions 
a battle of eels, and in the sequel when they had 
done their utmost certain topographical features 
made the place unwise to hold. I spoke with the 
men who had endured this the day after writing 
of the battle as it was unveiled to me, and felt that 
I had committed unconscious high treason. So 
easy is it to make the foul appear fair, to be tricked 
by the enchantment of distance. 

Perhaps the general attitude of every soldier 
to everything written about war — and not least 
the official news — is that all is too smooth, too 
pretty, too little real, and too favourable. It is 



THE SOLDIER AND THE SEER 9 

true what some have endured to suffer others 
must endure to hear ; but readers must submit 
to be tricked. Avoidance of the brutality of war 
is in some sort inevitable. All who have written 
about war, especially the great historians, who are 
doubly deceived by the distance of time and space, 
see it as the airman sees it in a large spaciousness 
where details are hid and only issues count. But 
let us remember the real war behind. If we forget 
the loss, the pain, the fear, the waste, and the 
wickedness, we forget a duty to the human 
race. 

Again, the thousands who have publicly 
praised the man in the trench, whether soldier 
or officer, have unwittingly in their cumulative 
admiration helped to give — or so the soldier 
sometimes thinks — a wrong impression of his 
service. 

The truth is that the observer is so constantly 
struck by the cheerfulness of the men that he has 
come to regard their occupation as in itself an 
almost cheerful thing, or rather to give the im- 
pression that it is a cheerful thing. Every visitor 
to the front has so far escaped without hurt ; and 
most visitors have seen few tragic and many singu- 
larly picturesque sights. Even in the trenches 
goodly cooking smells titillate his nostrils ; and if 
the day is quiet and rifle grenades are infrequent, 
he is conscious, as he reaches the fighting line, of a 
curious feeling of security after the tremors of his 
approach. 

Afterwards, when he returns home, he is apt to 
give a picture of the war which leaves the soldiers 



10 WITH THE BRITISH ON THE SOMME 

a little resentful. Somehow the trimmings and 
dressings come to smother up the reality, and the 
fact does not appear that life in the trenches is 
no soft, pretty, or sentimental thing. Let me add 
yet another illustration of the soldier's point of view 
in face of his admirers. 

On the morrow of a severe local attack I 
went to visit the neighbourhood of the scene of 
action close to the famous Hohenzollern Redoubt. 
No picture could have been more idyllic. There 
was great aerial activity. The machines looked 
like silvered butterflies chasing one another on a 
summer morning. Even the sound of the machine- 
guns, followed by the patter of the bullets here and 
there, was dwarfed by the great space of intervening 
air to the tap of a nesting woodpecker. Even when 
a plane was hit — and I saw one hit — it slid to earth 
like a homing seabird, giving no sense of catastrophe. 
The shrapnel made soft pillows for a cupid's bust. 
The general scene, viewed from a point of vantage, 
had the glamour that sunshine following snow 
can give to any landscape, even after it has suffered 
such earthquake shocks as disfigured part of the 
land in front of me. 

Nearer the front some of the dug-outs were 
comfortable and home-like. In one the only 
complaint was that the lire was rather big. Its 
occupant was reading a list of names of men recom- 
mended for gallant action. Farther back at a head- 
quarters every one was exceedingly elated at the 
results of the fighting : the science of the engineers, 
the quick charge, the few casualties. The journey 
to and from the front could scarcely have been more 



THE SOLDIER AND THE SEER 11 

charming. My companion, who was new to these 
things, was especially pleased with the parties of 
men swinging along with towels round their shoulders, 
as if they were at a seaside resort. This was on 
the return journey. Earlier the birds had heralded 
a delicious dawn with a fresh and lively chorus. 
In very truth, all was well with the world. My 
companion and I had spent a morning sweet with 
news of victory and the benediction of the spring. 
Who said War ? 

That is one picture. Now for the other. On 
the night following an old and grizzled officer, 
almost the last of those who had marched with 
the regiment to Mons and back two years ago, 
received instructions to take his men up to hold 
the ground won. The landscape he surveyed 
before moving was a model of desolation, ugly 
with debris and foul confusion, showing up against 
an ominous mountain of slag, converted to a 
German fortress, a monument of " clinker ed sin." 
As he and his men felt their way forward they 
met the stretcher-bearers and their groaning 
burdens. 

The first crater they reached was a valley of 
Gehenna strewed with bodies, all fouled with mud 
so deep that only the strongest could attempt 
to carry out the wounded, and even the fresh and 
unimpeded troops had much ado to advance. At 
last they took up their stations in this same bottom- 
less mud and slush, some of them over ground 
beneath which they knew the enemy were tunnelling, 
all of them in positions open to every danger from 
above. Each man had only one course — to shut his 



12 WITH THE BRITISH ON THE SOMME 

mind to any thought whatever, beyond an almost 
fatalistic determination to hold on, to carry on, to 
go through with it. And they held on. They 
made good, splendidly, grimly. But the splendour 
was not pretty, not of a sort to make the men 
enjoy delicate appreciations of the amenities of 
trench life. 

The very worst side of war can never be given 
while war lasts ; and for this reason the soldier 
thinks that people at home, while they praise 
his cheerful courage, do not understand how 
grim his business is. The lighter side of war 
is daily painted ; the darker side seldom and less 
adequately. 

Of course, the journeyman work of the war, in 
the front trench or behind it, is at neither extreme ; 
and as time went on it improved for all our troops 
in all parts of the line. Our artillery became 
more numerous than the enemy's and fired many 
times more shells. The trench maladies were 
more or less defeated. Confidence grew. Some 
few men even enjoyed war. 

All this is true ; but injustice is done and a 
false view promulgated if the civilian world does 
not realize that every little success won, every little 
attack defeated, means a very terrible experience 
to every man engaged. In the greatest battles in 
history few episodes have more finely tested our 
British sort of courage or better revealed the 
grimness of war than the battles on the Somme, for 
local defeats and the snare of muddy stagnancy were 
associated with salient victory. And yet at the 
very time when the worst was in progress the edge 



THE SOLDIER AND THE SEfiR 13 

of the battle disclosed scenes so picturesque — I 
might almost say so pretty — as almost to make a 
visitor oblivious of the gaunt, utter ruin of the once 
happy towns through which he passed or where 
he stood. 



CHAPTER III 
STEPS TO THE SOMME : MOVEMENT 

THE battle of the Somme, opened at 7.30 on 
the morning of 1st July, cut the year in half 
by a single blow. It dissevered all the past 
from the present, so complete was the change of 
warfare, in spirit and in fact. The battles were 
fought in a fair country of hill and valley, and men 
moved for a great part of the while in the open, 
instead of crouching in muddy ditches on a viewless 
plain. We had fled and forgotten for a while 

"the ditches 
And tunnels of Poverty Flat." 

The issues became vast and positive. They had 
been meagre and static. Above all, we heard every 
day such cluttering of shells that the very whine 
and whinny overhead drowned other noises. 

But the battle of the Somme was the result of 
growth, the flower of a biennial plant. Just before 
it opened, as I was watching our shells playing 
pitch and toss with German wire opposite the 
Gommecourt salient, I began discussing in the 
narrow prison of an observation post the years 

that had led to this event. The artillery observer 

14 



STEPS TO THE SOMME : MOVEMENT 15 

said almost bitterly that now people would forget 
the early war and the first soldiers. For myself, 
though I had been in France from September 
1914, I was to see this battle as I had never seen 
war ; but vivid moments survive from the first two 
years, and the tale of the Somme will be truer and 
more real for some glimpses into earlier fights. 

The war began with movement, at one time almost 
the quickest known in war ; and such is the influence 
of movement, that even amid the nameless confusion 
of the retreat from Mons, when men, if they slept 
at all, only slept as they moved, officers confessed 
that they enjoyed every moment. The enjoyment 
was doubled when the battle of the Marne was won, 
and our army marched north again ; and every one 
believed himself engaged in a short, sharp war, 
already reaching a climax. 

One officer, who still asserts that he never really 
knew the delight of life till the days of the retreat, 
nor so hated it as in the stagnant days that followed 
our advance, touched every variety of experience 
in that August and September. He heard the 
French cheers coming faintly over the water at 
Havre, when the news was made sure that the 
English were coming. With a hundred French 
civilians he dug in a nightmare night those shallow 
trenches at Le Cateau, which were afterwards 
described as our " prepared position/' He rode 
with a staff north and south, arresting here and 
there German military spies, one careering in all the 
glory of a 60-h.p. Mercedes car. He stood for hours 
by the roadside among the mingled succession of 
guns, cavalry, companies or platoons of infantry, 



16 WITH THE BRITISH ON THE SOMME 

Red Cross cars, ordnance lorries, and the rest, help- 
ing to sort out the British Army. Experience fell 
so quick on experience that not a moment was left 
to think of the bearing of it all. Action filled every 
moment. The army was sorted between Hem and 
Noyon. The men slept, and divisions recovered 
cohesion. The Marne was fought and won ; and a 
fortnight later this officer, still riding the same horse 
— an animal well known in the Grafton hunt — found 
himself journeying north a few miles east of his 
retreat to the south. With him were two other 
officers, and close behind six mounted orderlies, 
each leading an extra mount. Suddenly one of the 
party caught sight of a head-dress of curious appear- 
ance topping a stook of corn in an adjacent field. 
'• Germans, by the Prophet," he cried, and the whole 
party jumped the little ditch at the roadside and 
trotted up the stubble. From the vast hand of the 
leading officer stuck out by an inch or two the 
muzzle of a little pistol, and as they rode the others 
chaffed him on his absurd toy. The orderlies 
loaded their rifles, but as the led steeds pulled them 
this way and that, they were like to be more 
dangerous to friends than enemies, and one of 
the party begged them most earnestly to put their 
rifles away. 

Happily the Germans were not in fighting mood. 
The gentleman playing hide-and-seek behind the 
stook gracefully surrendered, and soon called up his 
friends, to the number of 120 odd, who were in 
hiding in the wood. A little later than the day 
of this incident I found myself at the village along- 
side the wood where the men had hidden. They 



STEPS TO THE SOMME : MOVEMENT 17 

were the relics of a tough rearguard action, one of 
the very first won by aerial observation ; and I saw 
a picture which was not to be repeated till the 
days of the battle of the Somme. 

The hope of victory, the sense of pursuit, bred 
of the German retreat, were to live in suspended 
animation for nearly two years. The German 
had won great victories, had suffered a great defeat. 
He was to fight at Ypres two drawn battles against 
meagre lines of troops starved of ammunition. 
By what incompetence and lack of dash he failed 
to win we cannot yet tell. But it is certain that if 
the German leaders had been half as good as they 
claim to be, they would have broken our line and 
marched almost where they would. 

Walking farther north, as I approached the 
Aisne I met a British soldier returning to his 
regiment after escaping from German hands ; and 
a wonderful story he had to tell : how the prisoners, 
who were retained under shell-fire to dig trenches, 
lay down for the night in one long line, with a 
sentry at either end. After one more than usually 
laborious day, men and sentries were so dog tired 
that all slept deeply, except my friend. He slipped 
from the line, first making a dummy figure of himself 
on the ground. He crawled to the sentry, robbed 
him of some papers, slipped into a neighbouring 
wood, lay hidden for twenty-four hours, then set 
out — vaguely, in any direction. He was grazed 
by a bullet over the eye as he swam a river ; he 
"borrowed" an old horse and rode some miles; 
he fed on corn and berries, but at last crossed north 
of the rival lines and wandered down into the area 



18 WITH THE BRITISH ON THE SOMME 

of British troops, where finally he found his 
unit. 

As I listened to his tale over a game of cribbage 
in a little inn, a gunner sergeant came in and 
asked me the way to Villers-Cotteret. He was to 
start for Belgium at five the next morning. The 
last violent German attacks against our lines on 
the Aisne had failed. The battle of the Aisne, 
where the British Army fought an heroic fight 
almost unchronicled, was over. The race for 
the sea was beginning. I was off before the 
sergeant, and, by walking twenty-five miles as 
fast as might be, reached Paris early in the after- 
noon. Seventeen hours in the train took me to 
Calais, and four more to Hazebrouck. From the 
neighbourhood of St. Omer we saw two Uhlans 
across the fields, and the excitement was great. 
People were differently affected. Two French 
soldiers, who had sick leave, at once took out their 
knives and ripped the stripes over their tunics. It 
was said, they explained, that the Germans were 
much more severe towards any captive who carried 
distinctions, and the simple poilu had a better time 
than his N.C.O. 

The train was the train for Lille, according to the 
shouted information of the porter at Calais. After 
much nervous vacillation, during which guards, 
stationmasters, and drivers consulted with passengers, 
who included a most worthy and courageous deputy, 
it was decided to go as far as Hazebrouck. The 
Uhlans had reached it first, forty of them, but had 
gone again, leaving dead two railway officials and 
a little girl. In the afternoon, from among a 



STEPS TO THE SOMME : MOVEMENT 19 

bunch of French dragoons ambushed in the thistles 
beside the railway, I watched a sharp and yet 
nearly bloodless action. A battery of 75's, a few 
machine-gunners, and several squadron of horse 
routed the enemy's patrols for the day. 

Next morning the town was evacuated. No one 
knew where anyone was ; and as I set out to walk 
again I met little groups of dragoons, looking 
strangely mediaeval as they emerged from the 
autumn mists ; and each group asked me in turn 
whether I had happened to notice any Germans 
about or heard of their doings. Behind them came 
the British, also feeling their way forward and push- 
ing the enemy back. A month later sketchy holes, 
dug in rough order, dotted the line of trenches that 
the rival armies still hold. A friend of mine, after- 
wards to become a general, was guided to one such 
hole the evening of his arrival. He had the vaguest 
sense of the places where his neighbours were. All 
that he felt quite sure of was that an officer had 
been killed in his hole the day before. The thought 
kept him wakeful. As the dawn approached he 
could see frozen on the edge of the pit the brains of 
his predecessor. A moment later horror was ab- 
sorbed in expectancy. Dim through the thin wood 
he saw a figure approaching, very slowly, very 
cautiously, and the green uniform blended well with 
the mist and dying leaves. A vagrant German 
sharpshooter was afoot, turning his head this way 
and that as he advanced with extremest caution, 
and he did not divert his attention for a second 
until, at a point within 40 yards, a fallen tree blocked 
his path. Then for a moment he looked down to 



20 WITH THE BRITISH ON THE SOMME 

surmount the obstacle, and in that moment lost 
his life. The sniper was sniped, the Englishman 
avenged. The German's musket clattered from 
his hand, and his body fell prone over the tree. 
This British officer had seen and killed a German 
at his first venture. Thereafter, when those holes 
developed into complicated trenches, soldiers were 
to live in them for a year, for two years perhaps — to 
live in them and maybe to die in them without ever 
seeing an^enemy and seldom firing a rifle. 

In those days it was held a crime to wish to 
chronicle any event in which the British Army was 
engaged. So, like many others, I came to know 
much of the battle of the Yser, little of the battle 
of Ypres. Indeed, for a while all Britain, all the 
world that read newspapers, felt that the greater 
brunt was once again borne by Belgium. The 
struggles at Ypres, and indeed at Arras, were 
fought in camera. Both Belgian and British were 
begging help of the French, who were themselves 
harried at many points and in fear of being broken 
at one. But it is true that the Germans were 
thrusting for Calais in lieu of Paris, and the Belgians 
stopped the hole. I saw their wounded — 8000 of 
them and more — struggle back on the road to Calais, 
and presently visited day after day the scene of 
their strange victory. 

It was won in part by a civilian, a Justice of the 
Peace who lived in the charming square of Furnes. 
He had found in an historical manuscript, which he 
showed me, an account of the flooding of the low- 
lands in the opening of the eighteenth century. He 
submitted the passage to the military authorities, 



STEPS TO THE SOMME : MOVEMENT 21 

and they took the hint. The sluices were broken 
and the Germans swept off their legs by the flood. 
Trenches were dug by the Belgians just on the hither 
side, fronting the most miserable prospect man could 
desire. Behind them were the flattened houses and 
crazy towers of such villages as Ramscapelle and 
Pervyse. In front the floods dandled the dead 
bodies of Germans, who moved grotesquely as the 
waters rose ; swelled out to inordinate proportions 
the bodies of cows fixed upright by the legs in the 
soft mud ; lapped with the sucking noise of a 
gobbling monster the very head of the parapet. But 
the floods had done their work. The last German 
offensive on the West was over for the season. 

The muddy brutality of war soaked into the 
bones of every man, though soldiers were amazingly 
cheerful. On the Christmas Eve of 1914 I spent 
an almost merry day in the trenches of Ramscapelle, 
one of the several shattered villages facing this 
melancholy inundation ; and on Christmas morning 
journeyed home with a long-legged British officer 
caked in mud to the hips. By brilliant moonlight 
he had crept from his trench in front of Ypres — 
communication trenches there were none — found a 
chance lorry, which took him to St. Omer, and there 
he just caught a train that brought him to the 
Calais boat. He reached his Gloucestershire home 
in time to dress for Christmas dinner, as merry as 
a boy at the prospect. 



CHAPTER IV 
STAGNATION 

THE German dominance at Ypres had not 
affected the spirit of our troops. Some 
evidence there is that the Germans, having 
failed to push an overwhelming advantage in men 
and material, were the more depressed. They 
thought more seriously of peace at the end of 1914 
than ever again till Christmas 1916. Would any 
of us, soldier or civilian, have kept a cheerful spirit 
if we could then have envisaged 191 5 ? I picture 
the first half of it as a hospital, through which 
percolates an unceasing stream of wounded soldiers, 
moaning of the enemy's artillery. " Our guns 
never shoot. We never hear them. The enemy 
is firing all day and all night." The moan rose 
unceasingly till even the nurses, who seldom ask 
of the patients a word about the war, went about 
begging officers to tell them what this might mean. 
And none could answer. The war appeared to 
consist of Ypres and nothing but Ypres. Our 
army had the sense of being overlooked — almost 
in both senses of the word. The German kite 
balloons went up when and where they wished. 
Every one who moved up or back had the feeling 



STAGNATION 23 

that an evil eye was upon him. The artillery 
suffered even more. One young and promising 
gunner was so oppressed by the eyes of one of these 
balloons watching every flash of his guns that he 
could control no longer the insensate desire to strike 
back, and turned one of his field-guns to an aerial 
tilt against it. Instantly, of course, the German 
observer telephoned to his battery, and they 
smothered our battery with 5*9 shells. Another 
vainly begged leave to run a single gun forward 
for the relief of firing a dozen rounds at this " un- 
sleeping Eremite." The running up of the balloons 
was everywhere signal for trouble. For example, 
a gunner noticed two rise at a wide angle, and 
said at once to his companion : " Let us wait and 
see what they are going to strafe." Within ten 
minutes two shells fell on either side of a church. 
The third hit it, and for a few minutes the two 
watched " as pretty a piece of gunnery as you 
could wish." It finished with four incendiary 
shells, which set the ruins ablaze. Then when the 
storm seemed over they went to look close at the 
effect. In front of them walked an old Frenchman 
and his wife, who owned a house just beside the 
church. The old man hurried forward, and in a 
minute came out with a jar under his arm con- 
taining 120 golden louis d'or. The old couple 
smiled, almost fondled the jar, and tottered off 
down the street. 

" But ever at my back I hear 
Time's winged chariot hurrying near." 

A thin note sang behind them : another shell was 



24 WITH THE BRITISH ON THE SOMME 

on its way. It pitched in the street close beside 
them, broke the old people into pieces, and scattered 
the golden pieces all over the street. There was 
like to be a scramble for the gold even at that time 
and place, when the gunner intervened and sent 
off the collected pieces to the Assistant Provost- 
Marshal for due distribution to next of kin. 

We suffered from such overlooking by the evil 
eyes of the enemy all the year in most places, at 
any rate from Ypres to Arras. All the while 
destruction accumulated. I was in Arras in No- 
vember 1 914, the day after the Germans had put 
500 shells into the old Town Hall. At several 
different dates in the next eighteen months I 
repeated the visit. Each time the ruin of the 
cathedral and the squares and the station was 
greater. Each time other streets had tumbled in. 
A few valiant women still sold cards and souvenirs 
in the square, and slept in the immense cellars ; but 
desolation triumphed. You felt as if you had come 
to a world where an evil principle ruled and would 
always rule, increasing gloom and accumulating 
wretchedness. The devil would never die. Every 
day he destroyed beauty. Every day he killed 
life. Extinction seemed the only end. 

Such mood was upon us all during 191 5. In the 
spring we were overwhelmed by gas and guns at 
Ypres. In the autumn the victory of Loos dwindled 
to a half -defeat. The armies faced one another in 
stagnant, immobile, sulky wretchedness. " When 
will the war end ? " said a German officer as he 
travelled in a hospital train for Boulogne. " I 
can't tell you when it will end ; but I can tell 



STAGNATION 25 

you where — exactly on the spot where we now 
crouch." 

Both sides began to feel this stale hopelessness ; 
but never were soldiers more admirable than ours. 
They bore every ill. Their positions were worse 
than the enemy's — their trenches wetter and at 
first their equipment inferior. But they kept 
their calmness and their good temper and their will 
to win. The trenches round Kemmel and Ar- 
menti&res — which were especially familiar to me — 
were more cheerful places at Christmas 1915 than 
the Ramscapelle trenches in 1914. The army was 
growing, and the mingling of troops from many 
quarters of the world gave a certain impetus. I 
always found that a visit to the front trench gave 
a sense of ready cheerfulness, in spite of the mud 
and nearness to the enemy. One visit to the 
Canadians, whose lines ran within 40 yards of the 
Germans, remains very vivid, and will give an 
epitome of the life. It was a day of mist and rain ; 
and the horizon shrank from ten miles to one as we 
journeyed to the trenches in the plain, where a 
horizon from 20 to 30 yards is all that a man needs. 
Indeed, down in " the common crofts " certain 
advantages belong to thick weather. 

Where the communication trench is a slough you 
may clamber on to the bank and try to feel as 
confident as your guide that the enemy will neither 
see you nor infer you. You take short cuts here 
and there, trusting that the member of the working 
party is quite accurate when he assures you that 
the interval is " dead ground for bullets," though 
the idiom has an uncomely sound. 



26 WITH THE BRITISH ON THE SOMME 

A comforting though rather ominous silence was 
over everything that day ; and when we reached the 
front-line trench the crack of a sniper's rifle just 
round the traverse sounded as loud as a battery. 

But the trenches themselves gave every con- 
fidence. Neat drains from No Man's Land flowed 
out under the duck-boarding that everywhere served 
as flooring. Even the slither of this stoneless mud- 
clay had been kept tame by wire and wood ; and 
the millions of sandbags were piled in the newest 
and most scientific manner. 

As I stopped leaning up against " the loafer- 
burnished wall," while some one else was peering 
through a spy-hole, I became aware of a sort of 
rabbit -hole below me. The inmate, with the usual 
quick Canadian hospitality, offered me the freedom 
of his dwelling. He could not receive the whole of 
his guest : there was not room for that. I con- 
sidered the invitation as extending to my head, and 
that could enter far enough to see and appreciate 
the whole of the Dutch interior. The owner sat low 
before a tiny stove, and he held in his hand a well- 
lathered shaving brush. His cheeriness, conspicu- 
ous even in this cheery group, was due perhaps to 
the prospect of a clean shave, as the preface to a 
savoury lunch, whose fumes already made a pleasant 
accompaniment to the toilet. 

It is difficult at such a moment to understand and 
feel the hardship and danger of this daily warfare. 
The men make you forget it, so natural and jolly 
they are, though each is in some sense treading on 
a mine. Every one looks at home. From the next 
dugout came the gay whistle of " Susanne, Susanne, 



STAGNATION 27 

we love you to a man." On the back wall at the 
traverse beyond was a little hand-made weathercock, 
such as you see in a village garden at home. Who 
would ever have thought that it was put up to 
indicate the winds favourable to a Hun gas attack ? 

The gongs fixed to the walls here and there have a 
domestic look, though they are made of empty shell 
cases. But most of all the household ways of the 
men and their lively spirit kept aloof the sense of 
danger and death. Yet these never for a minute 
lack a reminder. 

Lying on a mud heap were two French rifles 
dug up yesterday, relics of a stubborn fight on this 
same spot a year before. The place is fathom-deep 
in the crudest form of war record. Here and there, 
in the area of the trench and at its edges, rough 
circles and crosses mark the burial-spot of the often 
nameless dead. And you may see more direct 
evidence than this. Nor can the most buoyant talk 
quite avoid the tale of losses and scenes still printed 
on the mind and distinct on the retina. In spite 
of all, no one is less morbid than the man who fights 
daily. He thinks first and last of his job ; and 
great thinkers have reached no sounder philosophy 
or source of comfort. 

The day was remaining quiet as well as thick. 
The mist, now turned to rain, seemed to have 
blanketed the animosity of guns and grenades, 
always excepting the rifle of the sniper. And 
sniping, the most interesting occupation, is also the 
favourite theme of trench conversation, as may 
easily be understood. In this very trench a single 
sniper had just earned a few days' leave after killing 



28 WITH THE BRITISH ON THE SOMME 

his thirty-first German. They were all down in the 
notebook as certainties with details. 

Many were the tales of the skill of one particular 
German sniper. His prowess was even shown off 
to visitors, as if he were a recognized attraction of 
the locality. " Just you watch him/' a man would 
say, and thereupon raise a tin on a stick. Before 
the visitor was well aware of what was being done, 
the tin rattled and flew off the stick to the other 
side of the trench. " Pretty good, isn't he ? ' the 
showman would add, with conscious pride that his 
pet had come up to promise. 

No Man's Land came at that date second on 
the list of trench subjects, but it had another name 
in this particular district . A visiting general asked 
some question about the work of the patrols in No 
Man's Land, and received an answer as satisfactory as 
unexpected. " We do not call it No Man's Land any 
longer," said the subaltern. " It is now christened 
Canada. ' ' He spoke with justifiable pride. The space 
has been annexed so completely that no German has 
been known to venture upon it for a month and more. 

English county troops in some much worse 
trenches, continually knocked about by trench 
mortars and approached by alleys that were often 
canals, kept their Christmas almost as if at home. 
Yet every man hated the war and longed for an 
end of which he got no glimpse. A real advance 
seemed the least likely event in the wide world. 
The duty of duties was mere endurance ; and it was 
nobly done, after the established fame of the English. 
But no men ever had a greater longing for home. 
The Christmas post proved that. 



CHAPTER V 
EXPECTANCY 

THE mood of 1915 continued into 1916. For 
myself I trapesed about front trenches and 
support trenches and alleys all along the 
line, week in and week out, seeing nothing but mud 
and water, and feeling each week that the treadmill 
of war would never cease, but that round and round 
the survivors would wheel till human nature could 
endure no more. The trenches from Gommecourt 
to Vaux on the Somme looked permanent and im- 
movable as the rest. Who shall say when the real 
change came, but as the spring of 191 6 advanced 
soldiers began to see and feel that the force of the 
nation was steadily mounting. France as well as 
England was becoming a great school of war, where 
every soldier was being trained for a vital issue at 
some nearing date. I remember with peculiar 
distinctness the day when in my own experience 
the sense of stagnancy gave way to expectancy. I 
had stayed the night in the fine monastery that 
crowns the Mont des Cats, a hill that rivals Cassel 
itself or the Scherpenberg as a vantage-point for 
the Flanders plain. 

From where I stood, watching the battle from 

29 



30 WITH THE BRITISH ON THE SOMME 

afar on a quiet Sunday morning in January, the 
landscape below, with its patterned fields and pen- 
cilled avenues and dotted homesteads, was so wide 
and sweet that the commotion of war and its equip- 
ment, in spite of their insistence, seemed as little 
and paltry as the bickering of a bevy of sparrows. 

This Flemish hill commands so wide a rural view 
that the line of battle is enclosed and lost within 
the wide margins, and though these margins them- 
selves, through all their depth, are scribbled over 
with the unlovely writing of war the country wins. 
Peace and its elemental arts conquer. 

You look at the war with a sort of idle curiosity, 
as you would at the rooks mobbing a sparrow-hawk 
down by the hopfield poles. The scene of it is 
spread out like a painted map. When the mist is 
blown aside and the sun is out you can see from 
the Nieuport dunes to La Bassee and the coal tips. 
Indeed, there are few such wide views in Europe 
as this and four or five other neighbour hillocks 
offer. On that Sunday morning all the nearer 
fields and hop gardens and spinneys were stencilled 
with the clear precision proper to a winter day ; 
but the war zone lay fitly cloaked under the decent 
cere-cloth of an even haze. The inclination was to 
look at near and homely things — the elm tree twigs 
already in tiny leaf and the open buds of the guelder. 

The sunshine was brilliant but variable ; and 
presently the patch of light, clouded on the hilltop, 
moved away to the valley and toward the battle, 
carrying our eyes with it. Then, like the sun in 
Ajalon, it stopped ; and the light was concentrated, 
almost stagily, on one disc in the else misty distance. 



EXPECTANCY 31 

To my utter amazement a great ruined town lay 
suddenly visible— the once quiet, almost cloistral 
Ypres, with its jumble of formless homes and streets 
and broken spires. The stump of the Cloth Hall 
tower with the ugly gap in its side could be picked 
out before the patch of light moved on and showed 
Zonnebeke away in the German lines. The scene 
and the mood in which you watched it were at 
once turned inside out. You forgot the buds for 
the battle — a change very much for the worse. 

Even in the sunshine you could see the quick 
stab of flame from some assassinating battery else 
hidden and unsuspected in some meadow or tilth. 
This fire seen in a bright light has always a peculiarly 
venomous look among the signals of war. Many 
warlike things are themselves almost peaceful. 
From that distance the puffs of shrapnel behind 
Ypres had a woolly, comfortable appearance, as 
if cherubs' heads could rest comfortably in them, 
after the fashion of a gentle decorative Raphael 
picture. The slow boom of the heavy guns is itself 
like the roll of the sea ; and there is nothing more 
harmless in guise than the modern battle line itself. 

I once walked up to within 800 yards of the 
enemy's line on a hill in Flanders without the 
least sense that in the harmless rustic ditches 
below me the greatest army in the world was fighting 
the greatest and the most brutal war of the world. 
But the flash of flame, that " lightning of the 
nations," is angry beyond all concealment. There 
is no mistaking it. It is the very expression of the 
joy of killing. The serpent in Eden spitting venom. 

At such a place on such a day the conflict ion of 



32 WITH THE BRITISH ON THE SOMME 

war and peace is strangely abrupt. The church 
bell is ringing. Within the monastery, the old 
monks, pledged to a life of silence, kneel and read 
and contemplate. The country people, in Sunday 
dress, dawdle in twos and threes up and along the 
hill discussing the early signs of spring, or the 
pleasant warmth of the parish church, or the price 
of food, or the probable paucity of trippers come 
Easter. 

It would need some force vastly greater than 
Armageddon to drive out of the heads of any 
country people their common daily homely thoughts. 
They are busy with things more important than 
war ; and to minds well regulated by everyday 
concourse with nature much more interesting and 
honourable. The presence of war goes for the most 
part simply unheeded, though it is urgent enough 
in all conscience. And this hill was an epitome of it. 

By the pleasant spinney on the sunny side is a 
little graveyard where six Indian soldiers are buried. 
The wooden tomb-heads bear names that are the 
Smiths of the Indian Empire. One only is marked 
" Sepoy. Unknown." These fine fellows met their 
death at this place during a fight in which the 
notorious Prince Maximilian of Hesse fell. He is 
buried in a grave kept secret from all but a few. 

What prophet in the wildest Cassandra flight of 
imagination would have dared to foretell that such 
opponents could ever have met on such a tilting 
ground ? The old round mill on the hill-top has 
seen six hundred years of warfare, but never such an 
historical marvel as this. The signs of war are 
everywhere. The old mill itself is scarred by an 



EXPECTANCY 33 

English shell. The monks' wall is pitted by machine- 
gun fire. Cunning German trenches furrow the 
hill-side, and bits of their thin black telephone wire 
are coiled in the hedgerow. 

The impression might have been as of " old, 
unhappy, far-off things and battles long ago," had 
not the Sunday calm been broken by a variety of 
the noises of war, very near and very real. Rifles 
cracked, bombs exploded, a mortar fired, aeroplanes 
boomed loud overhead. Puffs of smoke rose from 
among the trees. The war at hand, though ten 
miles from the front, was the noisier, the more 
various. The truth was that the whole countryside 
had become a training-ground. Snipers' schools, 
bombers' schools, trench-mortar schools, infantry 
schools were dotted about in every other parish. 
The British nation was at the school of war, pre- 
paring for — what ? In some schools lines of sacks 
were hung up for bayonet practice, and they looked 
like corpses. Flying over the country in a plane, I 
saw below scores of practice trenches and little 
squads of men drilling, charging, wire-laying. Day 
after day along the roads fantastic monsters on 
caterpillar wheels grunted their slow way forward. 
No scenes in the war more moved the emotion than 
the regiments landing at the base night after night on 
the dark quays and gathering in squares lit by a few 
dull flares and crunching away in column between 
lines of French women and children wishing them 
well. These and a score of sights seen earlier at 
the base moved like a cinema across the mind's eye. 
The intention, the will, the momentum of the 
nation made themselves felt at every turn ; and 

3 



84 WITH THE BRITISH ON THE SOMME 

from that date — for me at any rate — the war grew 
more and more exciting as less and less happened. 
The waters were mounting inch by inch. The 
flood must come. 

Along the roads ranks of lorries were packed, a 
hundred in line, and in the fields the grass or 
field crop was paved for acres with standing for 
horses. The cavalry held field days. The infantry 
made sham attacks with all the paraphernalia of 
smoke and bombs. Mines were blown up to 
practise the infantry in charging and consolidating, 
while over their heads the trench mortars sent 
festoons of shells. 

Perhaps even the peasants felt a breath of the 
excitement, as the thud of the bombs interrupted 
the prayers of the monks and the laughter of the 
school children. But the sense was subconscious. 
For the peasant, noble man that he is, history may 
stand on its head and civilization explode in powder. 
It is an early spring nevertheless, and " wonderful 
mild for the time of year." 

All these things were more obvious to a traveller 
behind the lines than to the men in the trenches, 
who were busy rather with the present improve- 
ment of life than with the possibilities for the 
future. 

Trenches were still canals ; and trench life was 
only saved from gloom by the refusal of men or 
officers to appear dismal. Never before did gaiety 
so prove itself a quality of courage. In these 
months a merry heart went more than all the way, 
for it made good travelling for a score at a time. 
Life was hard ; but, as the spring advanced, less and 



EXPECTANCY 35 

less hard. The engineers came to the rescue, and 
staff officers turned their attention to hygiene. 
" We are become nursemaids," one said, half in 
mockery, half in pride. 

The Guards had already designed and erected 
draining works for the trenches that involved 
many miles of piping. Waterworks were set up 
miles in the rear. The better regiments had great 
washhouses and " municipal establishments." 
Beneficent socialism reigned. All men who came 
from the trenches bathed in hot water, and after 
foot inspection, dressed in clean clothes. All 
deficiencies in equipment were made good. Late, 
but at last (after great store of goloshes had arrived 
and been returned!), "gum-boots" of the right 
size were provided in due quantity ; and the malady 
of trench feet vanished. How constant the threat 
was, one instance will explain. In the St. Eloi 
salient, where one troop was forced to hold for 
three days without full relief, a German shell hit 
the store of gum boots left by the outgoing battalion. 
The men were therefore forced to be content with 
their ordinary boots, as every one was forced in the 
early days. The result was an immediate crop of 
cases of " trench foot," the first seen by the doctors 
in that neighbourhood for several months. Later, 
trench helmets were provided for every soldier, 
and they have saved several thousand lives. 
Railways — though still inadequate — multiplied. 
Day by day more howitzers struggled along the road 
and stores of ammunition lumbered up. France 
behind the line was a great training school, an 
Aldershot, Divisions, as well as corps and armies, 



36 WITH THE BRITISH ON THE SOMME 

had their fields of instruction. At the bases, 
where the scale of work began to astound all neutral 
observers who were allowed to visit them, one saw 
as great an effort in state socialism as the world 
has known. Every man in the employ of the army 
was provided with good food, good boots, good 
clothing. His old things were mended and, better, 
returned to him. He was not allowed to go ill- 
clad or fed or to do harm to his health ; and, after 
excesses of extravagance in the early days, meti- 
culous care was taken to retrieve and salve all the 
worn and jettisoned material : guns, bicycles, 
saddles, ammunition cases, tags of leather, and the 
rest. 

The sense for right action in war grew in every 
direction, in the domain of " Intelligence " as well 
as " Operations," to use the two words which divide 
the War Office. Instead of alternate promises and 
harryings, an official status and organization were 
at last — in May — given to six journalists, of whom 
one — and he not the least — was an American. 

Four photographers and cinematographers, 
gallant workers all, moved up and down the front 
taking every characteristic feature of the war. 
Finally in August 191 6 a great artist was given a 
commission to immortalize with pencil and etchings 
the battlefields of the Somme and the men who 
fought over them. Propaganda became a blessed 
word ; and no longer were any of its genial officials 
known as the Proper-geese ! 

The result of it all was that a steady flow of 
confidence in the sense and solidity of the national 
effort carried away the old stagnant flood of shallow 



EXPECTANCY 37 

optimism. We began to trust in British excellence, 
rather than in imagined and imaginary German 
decay. 

Yet the war itself moved not at all. In June 
we were to see in the field how powerful for attack 
as well as defence the enemy still remained. Once 
more — was it for the last time ? — the semicircle 
of Ypres was a charnel. The tale of what the 
Canadians endured and how they afterwards 
retaliated has been told not once, but many times ; 
but the tale has always been of the infantry, never 
of the field gunner. Yet the reverse was a gunners' 
battle ; and this is how a gunner described his ex- 
periences in what he called the third battle of 
Ypres. The whole tale would fit the second battle 
in spite of our multiplication of guns and munitions. 
" My battery had been for months in a nice 
' cushy ' place, invisible except by aeroplanes, 
and undetected by them. 

" From the observation post, well tee'd up among 
the rooks, you could overlook the whole plain and 
trace out, even with the naked eye, a mile or so of 
serpentine trenches. You could see without using 
the excellent telescope how our shrapnel broke over 
the little German salient, and when called upon 
you telephoned back with the utmost satisfaction, 
' O.K.' or ' Carry on/ 

1 Then when life was most pleasant and, under 
the touch of leafy June, the O.P. had assumed 
all the qualities of a summer-house, news came 
that the battery was ordered to shift to a place un- 
comfortably near sea-level, where there are neither 
hills nor leaves, where nothing is below you, where 



38 WITH THE BRITISH ON THE SOMME 

the standard method of concealment is that of an 
eel in the mud. More than the worst was realized. 
The battery was attached to another unit holding 
a most uncomely piece of the front, and it was to 
be the forward battery. 

" Directly you arrived in the place, even at night, 
you had the feeling that eyes were observing you. 
You were the mouse to the owl or the lark to the 
hawk. At first the weather was foul, with a high 
wind, and the unpleasantness was felt to be a 
protection, though no one, except the major, who 
had been in the district before, quite realized to the 
full the compensations of foul weather. But it was 
not long before every one knew as much as the 
major on this head. 

" Three days after the arrival the weather cleared, 
and the Germans began a slow but persistent 
hammering at our trenches, and in spite of a sausage 
balloon right opposite, which looked full of eyes, 
reprisals from our guns were demanded. Members 
of this advanced position felt a horrible certainty 
that this ' liverspot in the sky,' as some one called 
the balloon, was marking down every flash and every 
puff of smoke ; that the site of the battery was 
being fixed down on a large-scale chart with cold 
accuracy, reaching to fractions of a millimetre. 

" The only consolation was high approval of the 
shooting from the advanced observer. By the 
next day comparative cheerfulness was restored. 
Some one was arguing that there was a good deal 
after all in the theory of protective coloration, 
and that you did not really need cover when the 
whistle of an approaching shell broke the thread 



EXPECTANCY 39 

of the argument. Being men of experience, they 
all knew that the shell was meant for them. The 
selected target is usually self-conscious and has 
more than a professional desire to know how good 
the shooting is. This noise topped the centre gun 
of the battery like a driven partridge over a hedge, 
and was converted into a visible object as it struck 
earth some forty yards behind. 

" ' By the Lord Harry — registered ! ' said the 
major, and looked wickedly at the balloon as if 
he could see the creature in it putting a blue pencil 
spot where the shell exploded before telephoning 
down to his guns that no further registering shots 
were needed. At all times the hate of a gunner for 
the sausage is a thing beyond expression. Now and 
again, in spite of discipline, it breaks bounds. 
The temptation to let loose at one of the hated 
balloons worked so strongly in two young officers 
that they suggested in a meek and inferential 
manner that they might be permitted to take a 
single field-gun forward to a hiding- spot they knew 
of, and to work their will on this uncomely and ill- 
omened bird. Needless to say, the idea was not 
approved. 

" So the thing was still there, inquisitive and 
menacing as ever, the next day when the slow 
bombardment and the tentative reprisals broke 
out into an artillery battle as hot as the gunners 
on both sides could make it. Every one knew this 
was at last a real battle, wiping out all experiences 
of the younger men and most of the older. Even 
the balloon was forgotten. Every gun was firing as 
fast as the men could sling in the shells and the 



40 WITH THE BRITISH ON THE SOMME 

cleaners work. There was scarcely time to listen 
to the voice down the megaphone bellowing at 
the closest range short series of mathematical 
figures. One of the guns in this advanced battery 
grew so hot that it seized and could be used no 
more till it cooled down. The gun pits so filled 
with empty shells that nothing could be done 
till space was made. Why every one was not 
deaf and blind long ago it was impossible to say. 
" But that day there were louder noises than 
the battery made itself. It had indeed been 
registered by the enemy. Any observer from a 
few hundred yards' distance would have said 
that not so much as a mouse was left alive within 
a hundred yards of any of the guns. Were the guns, 
then, shooting automatically ? For continuously 
one or other of the quartet never ceased to fire at 
its fullest speed. The gunners themselves had no 
brain or senses to observe or consider the miracle. 

" A very heavy shell — was it a 12 inch or only an 
8 inch ? — exploded close against the emplacement 
of the left-hand gun. Instantly, so it seemed, the 
whole team collapsed and vanished. The shock 
to the air was enough to destroy life. Never- 
theless presently a lieutenant and a sergeant 
found themselves fit and well — two men at any 
rate capable of serving the gun. They carried on. 
And as they went on firing, slowly but very methodi- 
cally, in a state of dazed tension, gradually one by 
one bandaged and deafened helpers came back. 
The vast explosion, which might have served for 
a ^considerable episode in extinction of a world, 
had neither damaged the gun nor killed a single 



EXPECTANCY 41 

man. Possibly it had saved the lives of half the 
battery, for from this moment the enemy shells 
ceased to wallow like pigs in the trough. 

" Coming back to realization of smaller things 
than the end of the world, some one noticed that 
the sausage had vanished. The light was seen 
to be bad. It was not only the smudge of dust 
and smoke which obscured distant things. The 
atmosphere was different, visibility low ; and the 
German is not very fond of blind shooting, except 
at certain crises and for very definite attacks. The 
sullen noise of our guns, mixed with occasional 
bursts, continued through the evening and into 
the night ; but the height of battle and strain was 
over. The battery had done its part. So had the 
ammunition carriers, the living and the dead." 

When all the story was told and the battery 
moved to another resting-place it seemed a thing 
incredible in the retrospect that men and guns, 
save a small minority, had come through alive and 
in working order. In each of their persons the 
gunners felt that a miracle had been wrought. 

Like miracles were wrought many score of times 
in the Somme battle ; but then always and every- 
where our gunners knew themselves to be the masters, 
and to possess the mastery of observation. 

An even more furious artillery onset was directed 
against the Londoners, who proved, to the surprise 
of many, among the best troops we have ; and 
the Vimy ridge for a while surpassed Ypres. The 
Germans possess what is known as " the travelling 
circus/' a body of expert gunners who travel at 
will along the front, concentrating on any desired 



42 WITH THE BRITISH ON THE SOMME 

piece of line. They are used for the sake of pro- 
ducing moral as well as material results. A German 
band heralds their arrival, announcing to all and 
sundry that the enemy is about to have the worst 
time in his life; and their arrival is always hailed 
with cheers. This circus arrived on the Vimy 
ridge, as desolate a spot as the front has to show, in 
early June. It had come to add the final flourish 
to the local artillery. Rather more shells than usual 
had been falling round our trenches and batteries, 
but nothing much was thought of it ; for " register- 
ing " of this nature is almost continuous along the 
lines. But this registering had more behind it. 
Early in the afternoon shells and gas shells began 
to rain over a number of our batteries ; and a few 
batteries were selected for a tornado. While this 
scattered anti-battery bombardment was in progress 
one of our generals mounted an observation post — 
there is none better in France — to survey the scene. 
He had hardly reached the spot when on a sudden 
the whole of our front trench began to smoke as if 
some one had lit a swathe of dry hay. He watched 
the smoke and fire run along the line with diabolic 
accuracy. Shells of three calibres — 77, 4*5, and 
5-9 — fell so thickly and with such precision that 
within a few minutes the whole scene was obliterated 
in dust and smoke ; the cloud came down and 
enveloped both the valley and the slope of the hill. 
So thick was it that no one ever knew at what 
moment the German infantry advanced. No single 
Londoner retired, but every man bore it out " even 
to the edge of doom." A very, very few were taken 
prisoner. None returned to tell the tale. They 



EXPECTANCY 48 

had suffered the most thorough and scientific 
bombardment yet known in history, and it was 
associated with counter battery work, exceptionally 
wide and precise. The enemy had used his superior 
position to the highest advantage. He could see 
all that we did. We could see little that he did, 
and in this war observation is everything. 

But even on the morrow of that action, by which 
the German won a mile of useful trench, our men 
had no feeling (as after the second battle of Ypres) 
that we were outgunned. Everywhere the sense 
grew that the enemy was to suffer as we had suffered ; 
and their hopes were justified. At Vimy for the 
last time the German guns mastered us. For the 
last time (for many months at any rate) the offensive, 
the attack, the will to attack was with the enemy. 
The tide was on the turn. The highest wave had 
broken. How nearly we had been engulfed, not 
once or twice, we can scarcely imagine; we shall 
perhaps never know. 

From the beginning of the year we had struggled 
hard to win the mastery of the air, and seemed to 
be near success, when for a short space a set-back 
was threatened. Suddenly one day half the world 
began to hear terrible tales of the Fokker, a German 
plane credited with superalpine powers of climbing 
and unimaginable speed. Many of our pilots 
themselves feared this new machine, and had kept 
a nervous eye on it some while before the public 
knew the name. The type, which was fast and of 
high speed, had been multiplied by the enemy for 
purely defensive purposes. Fokkers continually 
patrolled his lines, usually at a great height — 12,000, 



44 WITH THE BRITISH ON THE SOMME 

even 15,000, feet — sometimes singly, sometimes in 
groups. From this altitude they dived at hostile 
craft, not infrequently striking their victim and 
seldom themselves suffering loss, thanks to their 
method. They defended ; they seldom transgressed 
their own boundaries, and rarely pursued a duel. 
The past master in this defensive art was the famous 
Immelmann, who was to meet his fate, over his 
favourite locality, near Lille, from a young South 
African, whose first victim he was. But the Fokker 
was no lasting menace. The patrolling methods 
were learnt and answered ; and the machine itself, 
when captured, proved less powerful than it had 
appeared. Our mastery of the air was never so, 
great as during the preparations for the Somme, 
two months after Immelmann's highest success. 

When the great battle approached we had some 
real superiority on every plane. Our miners, a 
hundred feet into the chalk at Fricourt and Boiselle, 
proved a higher quality of nerve than the German, 
just as our airmen won the prize of observation by 
superior daring in the upper planes of air. Our 
gunners were superior in numbers, if not as yet in 
skill ; and had control of more shells, if many of 
them were rather inferior in quality. The infantry 
were short of experience, especially the younger 
officers, but they excelled the enemy in personal 
daring at close quarters, at least as much as he 
excelled them in the skilful use of position for 
machine-guns and automatic rifles. We were 
ready, or nearly ready, for the Great Adventure. 



PART II 

OHAPTER I 
THE COMING EVENT 

MANY people still believed and feared 
that the desolate monotony of the war 
was permanent . Blind and muddy it had 
been, blind and muddy it would continue. But 
before May was out most of us who had freedom to 
visit all parts of the front, from the marshes of 
Ypres to the pretty woods of Vaux on the Somme, 
knew that our cumulative sense of excitement was 
justified. We knew the great battle was in pre- 
paration along the south part of our line, the pleasant 
country of hill and dale below Arras, which we had 
taken over from the French. In the last week of 
June the expectation of a great adventure touched 
the people at home as well as the men in the trenches. 
To his horror, one of our generals concerned with 
the organization of the battle received a letter from 
his people in England asking whether the attack 
was to be on 28th June or 1st July ! In modern 
warfare a great attack can scarcely be hidden. A 
thousand and more guns are not easily concealed, 
even if they do not " register " ; and the move- 

4§ 



46 WITH THE BRITISH ON THE SOMME 

ment of stores and troops is " a thing imagination 
boggles at." Exactly where the coming blow 
was to be struck was harder to tell, though many- 
knew. The Germans believed the attack would 
be delivered on a front stretching roughly 
from Arras to the Ancre, and appear to have 
harboured no suspicion that it would extend to 
the Somme, much less south of the Somme. For 
ourselves, while we advertised the approach of 
battle, we strove to hide its whereabouts. The 
artillery bellowed from one end to the other. You 
could not find a five-mile reach of country where 
stretches of German wire — thick, brutal, indestruct- 
ible stuff it is — was not uprooted and scattered in 
aimless coils. A fury of raids broke out ; and 
night after night at a dozen places in the line our 
men penetrated the German trenches, sometimes 
finding the enemy alert and the trench full, and 
fighting hard, more often returning with one or 
two prisoners from a thin garrison. 

Never perhaps in its history has our nation vibrated 
with such sense of expectancy as on the eve of 
ist July. The great event cast more than a shadow 
before it ; rather the shaft of a searchlight. The 
clamour of guns shouting from Ypres to Montauban 
filled the ears of all who lived along the 90 miles 
of trench line, within 20 or even 40 miles of it. 
The noise was spreading over the inhabited world ; 
and all whose senses were in order could scent the 
battle from afar. 

In France itself, among our army, and, indeed, 
the enemy's, excitement touched a height impossible 
to gauge. For several weeks I had felt like a man 



THE COMING EVENT 47 

who watches a flood rise to the edge of a bank 
and knows that the moment must soon come when 
it will break bounds, perhaps shatter the bank, and 
in all certainty bring the ruin of thousands and ten 
thousands of lives. The world was big with fear 
and hope. Oppression and excitement alternated. 
Perhaps the observer with nothing to do but look 
and wait realized the imminence more than the 
soldiers ; though he felt it less. He was not kept 
awake for three, four, five nights by alarms of gas, 
the regulation of his own gas, and the thunder of the 
guns. He had not before him that prospect of that 
intense moment when the trenches are packed, and 
every man has his eye on the watch and quivers 
with unendurable expectancy for the second when 
he must scramble over the parapet, and across the 
open pursue the advancing curtain of his shells. 

Nevertheless, though his own body is safe enough, 
and instead of the soldier's alternative of death 
or glory he nurses only a certain shame that he can 
claim no lot or share in the great day, the observer 
who has watched the waters rise, who knows the 
plans, who has crept forward to view the length and 
breadth of the field, is conscious of feelings very 
near the soldier's, though in a sense impersonal. 
I had visited forward observation posts and various 
front trenches day after day with accumulating 
sense of the immensity of the issue and the in- 
evitable sacrifice. Nor was it all foretaste. The 

field-gun battery I passed near X lost three 

of its gunners in the interval while I was visiting 
the trench beyond and watching the havoc of our 
own shells. The shadow of the coming event was 



48 WITH THE BRITISH ON THE SOMME 

over the enemy ; and most of the guns that he was 
not afraid to disclose he set to counter battery work. 
The tension was never a moment released. Soldiers, 
N.C.O.'s, regimental officers, and staffs all felt as men 
feel at the start of a race : not fearful, but tense. 
An almost sleepless army quivered at the leash. 

The raids that preceded and accompanied the 
five days' bombardment from 26th to 30th June 
were of varying success ; the Highland Light 
Infantry, attacking near Angres, north of Souchez, 
claimed the most successful. They entered the 
trenches without loss, fought in them against 
numerous enemy for an hour round midnight, 
and returned with forty-six prisoners. Below 
this little triumph tailed down a succession of raids, 
including some failures. The Germans were ready 
and quick. But the general endeavour was so 
successful that, we gained identifications of every 
German division from North to South, with infor- 
mation of much utility in all the subsequent fighting. 

From prisoners and other sources we catch many 
glimpses of the German mind during these days. 
Special orders were issued and encouragement given. 
The men were told that if they held up the enemy 
in the coming attack, the war was won. It was 
a final despairing effort of the Allies, who would 
sue for peace when they failed, and the good 
German soldiers would return to their homes 
before Christmas. Every man was to hold to 
the death. 

On our own side little or nothing was said directly 
to the men till the very eve. Then many memorable 
speeches were made, some memorably good, some 



THE COMING EVENT 49 

memorably bad. The men liked best the speeches 
most full of information and least full of exhorta- 
tion. They listened with delight to the tally of 
shells which had passed over them on the way to 
the Germans : so many hundred of so many tons, 
per hour for so many hours, with other charming 
statistics. Listening to the oratory, subalterns of 
a classical bent and some imagination almost 
thought themselves back into the time of Homer, 
when heroes killed each other with their mouth 
before coming to sterner blows. 

One of the great subjects of discussion at regi- 
mental headquarters was whether it was better to 
be in the attack or in support. Most preferred the 
attack on the ground that supports get more than 
half the shelling and little of " the fun." A short 
while before, I spent many hours in the front 
trenches by Gommecourt, where every one was 
lamenting the order that the battalion was to 
be held in reserve. And how safe, how quiet the 
trench seemed. A number of us looked over the 
parapet and stared at the German lines with con- 
fidence. The only sign of Germans was an 
occasional burst of 4*2 shrapnel at an extraordinary 
height in the air, whence it rained down innocu- 
ously. It was hard to believe that crossing the 
parapet could be so deadly a pursuit, that presently 
wave after wave would sweep across that ugly 
interval among the maddest racket that ever man 
conceived. Yet at this point the enemy was 
preparing the very hub of his defence.. Several 
new batteries were parked under the peaceful 
trees in front. New wire was fixed in the nights. 
4 



50 WITH THE BRITISH ON THE SOMME 

German aeroplanes made efforts to discover the 
0/2 howitzers which had registered on Gommecourt 
Wood, that sharp salient which we faced on the 
west and — at greater trench distance — on the 
north and south-west. 

The serenity did not appear to be much diminished 
when one visited the O.P. and could observe the 
fall of the occasional shells from the same heavy 
howitzers raising great pillars of cloud among the 
belt of rather scrubby trees in front. Fighting of 
this sort is always unreal, because blind. The 
unreality was reduced almost to farce when one of 
our airmen, much beloved, though by name un- 
known to our infantry, began to turn Catherine 
wheels among the fleecy billows of shrapnel smoke 
over the German lines. War ? Impossible. Not 
even a passable imitation. 

Yet most of war was there. I heard even the 
rattlesnake rattle of our machine-guns, which at 
capricious moments raked some bunches of trees 
in front, searching for German observers. One at 
any rate shot with effect. A straight black object, 
thought to be a telescope, was clearly seen to fall 
from the upper boughs of a beech. All this was 
in mid- June. From 25th June war was tangible 
enough even in front trenches, where the men, 
though victims to a legion of false rumours, are 
always calm and quiet. And hopes ran high. The 
news was good. In spite of waterspouts of rain, 
we were the full masters of No Man's Land. The 
news of the lightning raids that had broken out from 
Ypres to Fricourt was cheered all along the line. 
Wherever you went you were asked for more details 



THE COMING EVENT 51 

of the H.L.I, and their forty-six prisoners, and of 
the savage night-time fight of the Oxford and Bucks 
raiders along the enemy's parapets. A few deserters 
had come over, apologizing for their desertion on 
the ground that our artillery had cut them off 
for three whole days from meat and drink. And 
all the time, steadily, though never in hurricane 
fashion, our heavy guns dispatched their express 
trains overhead with a most comforting roar and 
rattle. To sit in a trench as I sat day after day 
(and incidentally to watch the mortars explode in 
the German lines) while these vast shells were 
coursing to remote and unseen targets gave an 
amazing sense of security. Their clamour is so dis- 
tinctly localized and so long continued that you 
look up constantly with the feeling that they must 
be visible. But the faith of the man in the trenches 
for Lazy Lizzie or Grandmother needs no sight, 
though the long-distance monsters now first began 
to find a very strong rival in the more visible trench 
mortars, whose range and quality and quantity 
had suddenly increased. 

The truth seemed to be established that the 
munitions campaign had reached fruition at last. 
The German, of course, was answering, and was well 
supplied. He shelled our lines very heavily in 
several places ; but he had himself never yet 
indulged on this front in so widely extended a use 
of artillery. 

The extensive as against the intensive method 
was for the first time — so it seemed — on trial, and 
(without attaining any crucial results) it had clearly 
much agitated the enemy, caused him considerable 






52 WITH THE BRITISH ON THE SOMME 

losses, and left our infantry free to enter his trenches 
at night here, there, and everywhere. 

Some few people conjectured even on the eve 
of ist July that the battle was to be a gunners' 
battle, slowly wearing down the enemy without 
the use of great forces of infantry. Were not the 
guns noisy from Ypres to the Somme ? But these 
guessers had not passed new and forward gun em- 
placements, and entered roomy assembly trenches, 
and wondered at the mountains of shells stored 
behind, and marked along the roads the momentum 
of a moving army. 

On 24th June, wherever you moved along the 
front you saw lines of the enemy's sausage balloons. 
In them were highly expert photographers, who 
snapped the flash of our guns from many angles, 
while observers noted down all manner of informa- 
tion both for the gunners and the higher command. 
Most of the balloons were at least five miles behind 
the fighting line ; but on days of clear vision you 
can see at this angle only less well than from an 
aeroplane skied over the very spot. One of our 
balloons that I knew well — it was christened Ruddy 
Rupert — so irritated the Germans that they turned 
a naval gun — nicknamed Whistling Percy — to the 
sole work of attacking it. The observer heard the 
whistle go past him, and was on the point of giving 
the signal to descend, but forbore on a considera- 
tion of probabilities. Whistling Percy was at least 
eight miles off, and he reckoned that the odds on 
a hit were at least a thousand to one. So he 
stayed observing for six hours, while Percies hissed 
past him with much regularity at ten - minute 



THE COMING EVENT 53 

intervals, and he looked with occasional nervousness 
at his parachute. 

On 24th June the sky was populous with these 
German balloons. From 26th June till the first 
stages of the Somme battle were over, I never saw 
an enemy's balloon ; and the first that appeared 
was eleven miles behind the front line. For at 
dawn on the 25th June our airmen and the French, 
armed with a new method of offence, set out on a 
special " sausage campaign " ; and so successful was 
it that within an hour or two six of the enemy's 
balloons were in flames. Thenceforth none dare 
ascend ; and when at last some courage returned, the 
balloon was always sent up empty for a while to 
draw fire. All through the battle our airmen gave 
proof of high courage and skill in attacking these 
balloons, which were always defended from the 
ground both by " Archies " and by machine-guns. 
One airman pretended to be hit, and tumbled his 
machine down till he was close to the balloon and 
at its level. He then set it on fire with a volley and 
flew away, twisting this way and that, amid a 
storm of fire. 

Our own balloonists met with few accidents, 
though they approached sufficiently near the lines ; 
and some of the most curious escapes recorded in 
the war are associated with the balloons. One 
was caught in a thunderstorm, and under the 
pressure dragged its engine and winch, which 
upset in a ditch. One of the observers attempted 
to jump out in his parachute but was caught in 
the rigging. At this crisis the gas escaped very 
rapidly from the envelope; but so powerful was 



54 WITH THE BRITISH ON THE SOMME 

the tempest that it filled out the umbrella of the 
parachute, which now bore a great part of the 
weight of the basket, and this little extra force of 
buoyancy was just enough to slow the fall suffi- 
ciently. Neither occupant was badly hurt. 

The wire of another balloon, struck by an aero- 
plane, penetrated half through the wing. It seemed 
a certainty that the aeroplane must crash and the 
wire break ; but the impossible happened. The 
aeroplane, with its engine running lightly, circled 
round and round on the pivot of the sloping wire, 
all the while steadily slipping down. When at 
last it reached the ground, its release occupied 
several hours of hard work. The danger was that 
the wire would break when the flattened part was 
released and the balloon float off. The motor which 
winds the wire, and if need be draws the balloon 
along, had been pulled over on its side. In the 
sequel the two machines and all the crews came off 
with nothing worse than temporary wounds. 

All the history of the balloons illustrates the best- 
known quality of the British nation. The war was 
a year old before we paid much attention to the 
subject. The steady multiplication was one of the 
scores of signs of the coming event ; and when the 
moment came, we had more balloons than any other 
combatant. It was a standard amusement to count 
them. The longer you looked the more you saw. 
They seemed to grow on the view like stars on a 
photographic lens. I counted twenty-two on the 
morning of ist July, and have made the sum on 
occasion to thirty-two, a sky-pointer to the line 
and direction of the trenches. 



THE COMING EVENT 55 

For the time, the enemy was beaten in the air. 
He fought half blind, and did not recover till 
November, when his new double-engined plane and 
a great national effort recovered for him, not 
equality, but some measure of adequate competi- 
tion. 

The outbreak of our continuous and heavy shelling 
and our capture of the air synchronized with a 
certain weakening of the enemy's forces, opposite 
the French if not opposite us. The nth Bavarian 
Regiment and the 22nd Reserve Corps left for the 
Russian front, and the 10th Corps was sent east 
from the Champagne. In all eight divisions dis- 
appeared. Very soon the migration was reversed, 
and troops radiated to the hub of the Somme from 
north and south as well as east — naval troops from 
north of Ypres and Bavarians from Verdun. The 
thoughts of all Germany hung on the battle of the 
Somme. 



CHAPTER II 
JULY i : FROM THE HILL 

ON the night of 30th June, in a little room 
with windows carefully closed, the hour of 
the great attack was whispered and the rough 
scheme of battle unfolded. From the night and 
morning of 1st July, when through the velvety mist 
of summer we stormed fifteen miles of enemy's fort- 
ress, to the dark days of November, when what was 
failure at first was wrenched into full success, day 
after day without intermission a group of us watched 
British soldiers fighting the battle of the Somme. 
For myself, sometimes muddy trenches, sometimes 
hill-tops carpeted with almost alpine flora, sometimes 
the open muddle of the field, a ruined wall, a tree- 
top, an aeroplane, have all served as watch-towers 
for the panorama of battle. For week after week 
the memory of each day has been a memory of a 
smoking landscape and intolerable noise, of prisoners, 
of wounded men, of dead men on the field and 
behind it. Every friend you sought anywhere 
was busy in some way with the work of war. The 
doctor, without a moment's intermission from the 
matter in hand, talked of common home affairs 

while he squeezed shrapnel bullets out of a soldier's 

56 



JULY 1 : FROM THE HILL 57 

back, as you could shell peas out of a pod ; and he 
stands as a symbol of this incredible life wherein all 
men take war as a matter of course and only outside 
things as events. A war correspondent, as any 
other observer, though he touches much that shocks 
every sense, deals chiefly with the milder side of 
war. His experience is of its breadth rather than 
its depth, yet he sees its extent, its complexion, its 
variety of feature, as perhaps few others see them. 
He may visit, and does visit, the whole field. I have 
known it from Nieuport dunes, from the desolate 
ramparts of Ypres to the pretty woods of Vaux by 
the marshes of the Somme. He has acquaintance 
with battle from near and far, from observation 
points perhaps 800 or 1000 yards behind the charging 
infantry to the end of a telephone that is the eye 
of the Headquarters staff or the gunner major. 
When battle is over he may visit the field at a 
leisure but mildly troubled by occasional shells. 

Waiting for the battle of the Somme was like 
waiting at the start of a race in which one had no 
share but an intensity of interest. When a general 
came at midnight and shut door and window with 
care and whispered the hour of attack and the plan 
of campaign, excitement was almost intolerable. 
But the whole army now knew that the long 
tension was to finish within a few hours. The raids 
and pettish shelling over Flanders down to the 
Somme and across it were to be over and done with. 
They were in some sort a battle and preparation for 
battle ; but in essentials a mere flurry and flourish, 
a caracole before the charge. 

All was now to condense into the passion of 



58 WITH THE BRITISH ON THE SOMME 

personal contest within the compass of a narrower 
span. At a point within that span I stood with a 
few others, watches in hand, at the dawn of that 
perfect summer morning. The birds began to feed 
and chirp in the charlock by the trench's edge. 
The low rays of the sun ricochetting off the surface 
of the valley mist baffled all endeavours to penetrate 
the mystery of the battle-field, which spread before 
us, and indeed around us, in a spacious arc. 

No more than a modicum of sullen, capricious 
sounds betokened the crisis. Little was to be seen 
anywhere. There were neither night fireworks 
nor day tumult. For myself, I was watching the 
ugly bulk of one of the huge sausage balloons rise 
ponderously over the trees behind me, in very poor 
imitation of the larks, when the hour long and 
nervously awaited struck as suddenly as if it were 
unexpected. 

A year of anticipation would not have prevented 
or lessened the surprise. The mist was burst by 
a shock that no one can attempt to describe. 
All I know about my own sensations is that I had 
none left after five minutes. The monster of war 
had no features. A Niagara of sound poured cease- 
lessly, in volume incomprehensible, without dis- 
tinctions. The orchestra was making not music 
but noise in harmony ; and no one was musician 
enough to distinguish the parts. 

In this blur I had only one friend to cling by. A 
giant gun far away to my right was at work en- 
filading a German trench to my left ; and as its 
comet projectile churned through the air I could 
hear distinctly the whistling note of its passage, the 



JULY 1 : FROM THE HILL 59 

one individual, separate, palpable thing in an ocean, 
an atmosphere of dull, shapeless thunder-noise. It 
was neither painful nor glorious, this part of the 
battle as I saw it, or rather heard it ; but just a 
dull, local opiate, killing sensation, though leaving 
consciousness. 

After awhile the mind recovered and the senses 
became acclimatized. By a quite steady progres- 
sion the mist thinned and rose. I could pick out 
batteries that I knew and watch their stabs of flame 
and puffs of smoke. By seven o'clock you were 
quite sure that the flashes were not, as for a 
while you had feared, the bursting explosion from 
the enemy's howitzers ; for the flame from the 
gun-muzzle is horizontal, from the high-explosive 
shell vertical. 

At 7.15, so clear were the batteries, flashing here, 
there, and everywhere, almost as numerous and 
thick as tents in a camp, that you were amazed the 
enemy had not marked out every single pit for in- 
stant destruction ; but as yet not a shell came near 
them. The German gunners could not spare time, 
it seemed, for the batteries, when infantry were 
massing in the trenches. Nor could they see as our 
army could see. 

One after another our balloons had risen to the 
full height of their tether in a long line stretching 
quite out of sight. Their kite-tails streamed to 
the eastward, advertising the arrival of a good, 
steady west wind about to blow Heaven knows 
what fumes and smoke and dust and ashes from 
the front to the back trenches of the enemy's first 
line. But as vet the observers could look clear 



60 WITH THE BRITISH ON THE SOMME 

into the cockpit of battle : into the village of 
Fricourt, into Serre, into Beaumont-Hamel, where 
every leaf had been blown from the shattered 
trees by our lire, and every shelter and dugout 
was a mangled mess. 

The highest thing I saw in the place was one ten- 
foot wall or so ; and the trenches running into it 
looked like the first shale-tips of a deserted mine. 
And our army had yet better eyes than the balloons. 
Right over my head, against the clear background 
of a fleecy layer of cloud, a whole squadron of our 
aeroplanes, almost cloud-high, but pencilled in 
marvellous distinctness against the cirrus flakes, 
flew as the crow flies, direct for their target. Argus- 
eyed, and with more than a Cyclops' voice, they saw 
and shouted back the news of the guns' precision, 
untouched by the monstrous tumult below. They 
left the dappled puffs of shrapnel in beaded ropes 
behind them, as a fish leaves bubbles, till soon 
you could not tell which was cloud and which was 
smoke. 

At 7.30 the sights of the upper air were forgotten 
and quite obscured by such an earth-born cloud 
as might accompany the conflagration of a forest. 
Column after column of thick smoke rose and 
spread and floated forward from our trenches 
towards the enemy. Bullets of all sorts hummed 
and whistled. That inhuman, oscillating bullet 
of the German rifle and machine-gun and the 
round bullets of the shrapnel, some of them sprinkled 
with phosphorus, threaded the woof of the cloud ; 
but it was blind shooting. The cloud played its 
part, and many a man who left his trench behind 



JULY 1 : FROM THE HILL 61 

its cover owes his life to the beneficent obscurity. 
Nevertheless, many of the men would have liked to 
charge in full day for sheer pride of manhood and 
zest of clean sight. The " Up-and-at-'em *\ spirit 
was strong in our army that summer morning. 

The scene at night had been stranger. Then, 
unexpected as it may sound, you saw more and 
heard less. Instead of a misty monotone you 
watched continuously the flash of guns and blaze of 
explosions over twenty or thirty miles of country, 
and the star shells stippled out the line of the 
trenches. Since Midsummer Day we had turned 
night into day on the method of King Mycerinus, 
though his Egyptian grove was never lit so splendidly 
as these dour lines of trenches and ruined houses. 

No half-hour of the night was allowed to sink 
into its native gloom. No minute while I watched 
was lit by less than some hundred flashes, not 
reckoning the graceful and abiding star shells, 
which had all the semblance of a cosmic or celestial 
calm among the impish snap and flicker of bomb 
and shrapnel bursts or the thrust of the flash from 
the gun muzzle. One spot in front of me seemed 
especially selected as the scene for a spiritual con- 
flict between the two. Every time that the star, 
pure white and splendid, soared to its summit, 
alongside its apex, now this side, now that, glinted 
a triojof red shrapnel sparks, like the wink of a 
wicked eye ; and the festoon of the falling star lit 
a column of cloud that might have escaped from a 
mouth of hell. 

Away on the right the flicker was so continuous 
and jerky as to hurt the eyes. It gave the im- 



62 WITH THE BRITISH ON THE SOMME 

pression of a bad kinematograph film. Farther 
away all the lights, good and bad, were toned to 
the harmless expansion of what we call summer 
lightning, illumining wide stretches of sky and 
etching the patterns of the clouds. 

The great preponderance of trench mortars, at 
least on our side, during this night fighting dwarfed 
the noise of battle, and for a part of the time I 
happened to stand in what the French call a pool 
of silence, one of those mysterious regions, or 
perhaps zones, over which the sound passes almost 
unheard, to strike loudly the drums of ears, it may 
be, ten or so miles in the rear. 

Gorgeous as the scene was in itself, it was a 
pitiful thing beside the immediate human interest. 
Moving forward, we overtook some battalions on 
the march to the trenches. First I heard the 
rhythmic tramp and muffled noises as of a ghostly 
army ; then distinguished the sway and swing 
of a brown and lifeless pattern ; then, when the 
figures grew clearer, could count the double 
company and detect the English quality in the 
men; yet still I could not shake off the sense of 
marching with an army of ghosts in the limbo of 
some other world, for ever seeking to reach that 
unknown region of stars and thunder. 

The lorries rubbing past us in the gloom were 
like extinct megatheria, colossal and shapeless, but 
half alive. Noisier beasts, with long snouts and 
strange modes of progression, moved the other way 
or were passed as they slept (or was it grazed?) 
under the trees. They too were on the way to 
populate this strange country beyond the gloom. 



JULY 1 : FROM THE HILL 63 

But one did not march far with the men before 
recovering the sense of human things and proper 
reality. Gallant fellows, they whistled home-like 
airs, and on the way to the trench kept a merry 
heart. A little farther, and even the subdued 
whistle would be unwise. 

One platoon hummed the " Marseillaise " in 
harmony. " Not a bad tune, the old Mayonnaise," 
said a listener ; and after that the sense of a Stygian 
limbo could no longer endure. You were almost 
at home and altogether among actualities. A most 
English regiment was on the march at midnight 
down a country road in the hope of " bumping the 
Boche." A merry heart goes all the way. The 
celestial and devilish lights were a " Brock's benefit 
for the Boche," not a mystic Aurora Borealis or a 
mythical grove by the Nile. 

Your master thought now was, " Thank goodness 
that 80 per cent, of those flashes come from us, not 
the enemy/' and the only splendour that mattered 
the turn of a card was the splendour of victory. 

Finer .spirits never deserved a heartier God- 
speed or merited more of their country. 
| Such a view of battle gives no hint of the fortune 
of the day ; and men in high places were as ignorant 
as we. No true news was known by anyone for 
hours. One division could not tell its neighbour 
division where the men were or how far the trenches 
were won. Flashes of hope, half-lights of expecta- 
tion, hints of calamity only penetrated the smoke 
and dust and bullets that smothered the trenches. 

The tension was unendurable. The telephones, 
the carrier pigeons, the guesses of direct observers, 



64 WITH THE BRITISH ON THE SOMME 

the record of the runners, the glimpses of the air- 
men, all combined could scarcely penetrate the fog 
of war. The wounded who struggled back from 
German trenches themselves knew little. 

Those of us who were gazing from the misty hill 
hurried away to hear the official news, and, still 
unrelieved by certain tidings, pushed forward 
into the hurly-burly of the corridors of battle down 
in the valley. There the great events of the battle 
stood out quite distinct, though no one could go 
bail for any one point of evidence. We had 
galloped across the Montauban trenches, were in 
the edges of Mametz, and forcing our way up the 
hill west of Fricourt. All the rest of the battle still 
lay in the fog. 



CHAPTER III 
JULY i : FROM THE FIELD 

EVEN in the trenches the dawn of ist July 
seemed calm and sweet, at least till the full 
chorus of the guns opened at 6.30. The field 
on both sides of the line was dissembled under a 
soft mist, above which here and there a high spire 
or lofty tree just peeped out. I could catch now 
and then the glint of the sun on the golden body of 
the Virgin, battered by German guns from her up- 
right poise, and now holding out from the red 
tower of Albert the little figure of the Child Jesus, 
a symbol of many things not yet come to pass. 
The French inhabitants say that when the two fall 
the war will be over. To all who pass — and half 
the Army has passed — that figure suggests some 
of the most moving thoughts and memories in 
their life or in literature. Even in the intensity 
of the excitement of that morning a looker-on 
found ^himself muttering that poignant Virgilian 

line : 

" Tendentesque manus ripae ulterioris amore." 

It was a common experience of men waiting in 
the trenches for the supreme moment that their 
minds went back to little inconsequent things. 

5 



66 WITH THE BRITISH ON THE SOMME 

They were too highly strung to have control of that 
part of their mind not directly concerned with 
action. The waiting was hard. Many officers had 
not slept for many nights. If they could have 
surmounted the discomfort of the trench and shut 
their ears to the intolerable artillery and their eyes 
to the shifting lights loosed by a nervous enemy, 
they had still a multitude of duties forbidding sleep. 
In some places gas was released ; and every emission 
of gas means a score of orders and counter orders 
depending on the chance of the wind and weather. 

With innumerable batteries in action it was in- 
evitable that here and there a gun should fire short 
and endanger our own trench. To make sure of 
the offence and to find the offender is not an occupa- 
tion to induce sleep. The gunners had less chance 
of sleep even than the infantry officers, and their 
strain was the greater during the night hours. But 
the brunt of war is always borne by the regimental 
officer. His duties are most insistent, and he runs 
the supreme risk. In preparing to charge a trench 
his greatest fear is to lose direction. How little this 
trouble is understood outside the Army ; and the 
fault lies with the scale of the maps. The lines look 
so regular and the rival lines so close together. 
What is there to do but cross that little gap at all 
speed ? But the gap is neither little nor regular. 

At various places on our fifteen miles of front we 
had front trenches of some length facing north and 
south, though our general line faced east, and some 
bits faced slightly west. To ensure the even 
tenor of the attack the infantry officer must take 
almost as much trouble with his alignment as the 



JULY 1 : FROM THE FIELD 67 

master gunner. In many parts south of Hebuterne, 
where the trench pattern was more than usually 
complex, men went out into No Man's Land during 
the night to play the surveyor and lay down tape or 
chalk lines for the direction of the troops. Perhaps 
excessive precautions were taken in the arrange- 
ment of details. Nothing seemed to be forgotten, 
even to the laying of waterpipes up to points about 
to be conquered. 

The interval between the trenches varied as 
much as the angle. North of Gommecourt a 
brigade dug a new trench in the course of a single 
night, and dug it almost without casualties; but 
the interval was still 500 yards. Opposite them 
the enemy played a strange trick in reply. He 
built a new trench, one end resting on a peak in 
his own line, the rest breaking new ground nearer 
to us. A little while later a superior officer coming 
to inspect, condemned the new trench, and ordered 
the German regiment that built it to fill it up 
again ! 

All these things were photographed by airmen, 
watched by observers from all sorts of peepholes, 
and set down on the war maps. The distances were 
wider than most intervals in the north ; the 5 yards 
in the Arras suburbs, or the 40 at Kemmel. The 
troops had 200, 300, 400, even 500 yards to cross 
at one place or another, the distance diminish- 
ing from north to south. The widest gap was at 
Gommecourt, where we had the better of the hill, 
the narrowest about Fricourt, where both trenches 
descended each from its supporting hill into the 
long valley. In front of Montauban, where we 



68 WITH THE BRITISH ON THE SOMME 

shared the ridge with the Germans, the distance 
was about 150 yards. 

The scheme was precise, mathematical, so worked 
out by the higher command as to give the least 
trouble to soldier or regimental officer. So thorough 
was the previous work that every man knew exactly 
what he had to do, at the start and at the finish. 
Each wave was to " go over " with the men spaced 
so many yards apart. Just so many yards were 
to divide each of the first four waves. The several 
lines were specially armed and instructed for peculiar 
work : for seizing a trench, for occupying it, for 
defending it and for supplying the defenders. 
Such and such a wave was to capture such a line 
of objective, in some cases the fourth, in some 
the first or second line ; and such others were to 
follow after, " go through " and seize such a further 
objective. Artillery fire was synchronized exactly 
with these infantry movements, at first by time, 
later perhaps by signal, as the French do. 

The plans were complete. Corps generals who 
had worked day and night had taught a great 
army their plans, and they themselves had little 
to do but await the issue and the first news with 
what patience they could command. One of them 
walked to and fro from his study to the chateau 
garden through a window shattered to fragments 
by the shock of our heavy guns. Within the trenches 
some 100,000 men, strung to the highest pitch of 
nervous intensity, and yet calm and humorous to 
the last, awaited the supreme moment. One of 
the divisions engaged — and in the hottest place — had 
already made an immortal name, for its bravery and 



JULY 1 : FROM THE FIELD 69 

its losses, in the landing of Gallipoli ; and already 
the deeds are recorded in a form worthy of the 
courage by Mr. Masefield, with the restraint and 
force of Kinglake or Napier and with more than 
the simple charm of either. When this ill-fated 
and glorious division faced the Germans across the 
wires and holes of No Man's Land in Picardy it 
rejoiced in the absence of all the peculiar terrors of 
Gallipoli. Its task was bare and simple, almost 
crude. 

As the seconds ticked on in the midst of a sulky 
bombardment every officer looked at his wrist 
watch not once but a hundred times, and from his 
watch to his men's faces. " Do I look as green as I 
feel," thought one subaltern, " and shall I funk 
it ? ' Later he was astounded to remember how 
natural and cool he had been. He was only conscious 
of sharpened senses. The whereabouts of a machine- 
gun he knew by instinct, and led his men under 
cover with the tact of an Indian. His company won 
to their full objective without extreme loss, perhaps 
because the wrist watch he consulted so carefully, 
so nervously, was a second or two fast. For the 
first over the parapet fared best. The battle was 
probably opened in front of Auchonvillers, where a 
fast watch or over-eager spirit sent the men over 
the parapet ten seconds too soon. Some few fell 
from our own shells ; but so close did the battalion 
move to the curtain of our shells that the enemy 
had not raised his head and the machine-guns were 
not in position. How differently fared the New- 
foundlanders who were withheld till three hours 
had passed. 



70 WITH THE BRITISH ON THE SOMME 

It is easy to understand why this should be. 
Every battle-field in the battle of the Somme dis- 
appears into blackness and smoke, but no field ever 
so reeked with fumes as the German lines on ist July. 
We released enormous clouds of smoke that had no 
object save to conceal. Mingling with the light 
mist they floated slowly down the south-west wind, 
taking away the landscape and wiping out the 
figures of advancing troops. Within the mist, as if 
it boiled up with its own internal energy, rose the 
spouts of black and earthy reek from the heavy 
shells, and crowning these spreading columns and 
whorls of rising smoke, the little shrapnel clouds 
and winks of flame coped the gloom with a sort 
of beauty. 

The effect of the clamour and tumult is incom- 
municable in words and impossible to remember 
in sensation ; but the most terrible noise was not 
from the guns. At the moment when our artillery 
lengthened their fuses and lifted the fire to allow 
our men to charge the rattle of the German machine- 
guns that burst out at our charging troops absolutely 
drowned the artillery. Compare the size of the 
cannon and the detonation of a shell with the little 
pop of a machine-gun, and you will reach some idea 
of the volume of the fire that British soldiers faced 
without wincing, for the sake of home and humanity 
and to kill the creed of a nation that believes in 
war. 

Other noises competed. Our trench "mortars, of 
which much, too much, had been expected, broke 
through the volume of the heavier artillery, firing 
in some cases so fast that four shells from one mortar 



JULY 1 : FROM THE FIELD 71 

were in the air together. Though some mortars 
burst, and some jammed, the mortars wrought 
much havoc, and the sight of these spinning cascades 
of shells cheered the men to the point even of 
laughter. 

One other sound there was. At the Hawthorn 
Redoubt, built at the peak of a German salient 
below Hebuterne, and at a trench maze outside 
the village of Boiselle, two mines were blown 
of a depth and volume never before attempted. 
Their explosion dwarfed the smoke clouds and the 
great shell explosions, though the noise was almost 
dull and commonplace. It appeared as if a line of 
sepia oaks grew while you looked, and as quickly 
as they sprouted to the size of trees again spread 
out to the breadth of a forest. In all the immensity 
of this day nothing else compared with these 
explosions. They had the effect of a cosmic event, 
as if the gods were sharing in this mortal ploy. 

Was ever a more gigantic signal given to a waiting 
soldiery ? 

The advance took up the quality of the signal. 
It was slow, splendid, majestic, not muddled or 
muddied or confused, but calm and dignified as in 
a review. The high-strung nerves were disguised 
in dignity, and the assault took on the semblance of 
a procession. The waves went forward geometrically 
in one, two, three, four parallel lines. Even north 
of Gommecourt, where success was least and supports 
were least successful in keeping time, in emerging 
to the moment, the first waves reached the enemy's 
trench in a clean formation ; and as they marched 
by the salient of Gommecourt Wood groups of 



72 WITH THE BRITISH ON THE SOMME 

Germans ran out with hands in the air, surrendering 
to the threat. It was no wonder. Their holes 
and trenches were almost macadamized by bits of 
our heavy shells. But no battle plan ever yet 
survived the shock of personal contact, of the hand- 
to-hand struggle ; and no modern battle keeps a 
clear pattern when two artilleries cross one another 
in rival festoons. 

Within a few minutes design was lost. Troops, 
which had known the individual fighting of Gallipoli, 
again saw that salvation depended on each man's 
eff ort ; and just as no one had faltered at the outset 
when they marched as on parade, so now no one 
struggled back, but every man went forward to the 
place appointed. In a matter-of-fact way one com- 
pany, reduced to a remnant by the time the trench 
was taken, set to work,in literal obedience to previous 
orders, to form stores of their own and the enemy's 
bombs at due and proper places in the trench. 
Each man took up his allotted task according to 
the division of labour as he had learnt the principle 
overnight. For some of the duties no one was left, 
for some, one or two ; but when a man had an allotted 
task, to that at once he set his hand. While he was 
doing this amid the muddled heaps of earth, and 
among the bodies of the dead and wounded, he was 
often quite surrounded by the enemy, a prisoner 
almost alone among a crowd. But he had his 
work to do. If he had reached the spot he was 
to " consolidate," he consolidated, and, though alone, 
sent up a signal to say he was there. 

Staff officers and observers behind were peering 
through the smoke and confusion for evidence of 



JULY 1 : FROM THE FIELD 73 

the progress of the day, and almost all decided 
that things were going well. They caught sight of 
the signals everywhere ; and though telephones 
were broken, the evidence of a solid advance seemed 
sufficient. In a sense the first news they sent to 
the headquarters of their units was exactly accurate. 
Everywhere along the whole front our men reached and 
passed the German trenches. It is hard to believe 
that such a feat was possible over so wide a front 
against an enemy fortified to the limit of his native 
thoroughness and forewarned exactly of the time 
and place. 

For the Germans looked to this battle as definitely 
as the Allies. Every man was ordered to hold out 
to the death. Were he alone among a multi- 
tude he was to die fighting for the glory of the 
Fatherland and the peace of the world. A thorough 
and ingenious system of defence was organized and 
practised, and every effort made to send forward 
large stores of bombs and cartridges and rations 
to the fighting trenches. An extra number of 
officers gathered in the second and reserve trenches, 
leaving in the front chiefly non-commissioned officers 
and men. 

How far the most successful of the devices of 
defence was worked out previously, or how far it 
was accident, we do not altogether know ; but we 
know what happened in those parts of the line 
where we failed and now have had leisure to poke 
about among the strong points and trenches and infer 
the defenders' part from the nature of the defence. 

Wherever our infantry departed from instructions 
it was from excess of zeal. They went too fast and 



74 WITH THE BRITISH ON THE SOMME 

too far in certain places, though perhaps this fault 
of theirs, if it was a fault, has been exaggerated. 
The first waves crossed one trench after another 
without spending time in cleaning them out. That 
work was to be left to later waves. But the chance 
was denied them at any rate in the northern sec- 
tion ; and the unharmed enemy rose behind the 
gallant storming parties, sometimes cutting them 
off, sometimes firing into their backs. For these 
trenches could hold in concealment untold numbers. 
At Boiselle and Ovillers the chalk gave opportunity 
for carving out caverns of any size. The village 
of Beaumont-Hamel was built out of quarries 
within the village confines. The famous Y Ravine, 
30 feet deep, was scooped into a barracks , with a 
tunnel running back to the third line. To reach such 
trenches was one point, to secure them nine points. 
Not only soldiers with rifles and machine-guns rose 
behind the first advance. The enemy artillery was 
grouped as thickly as ours, and when the attack 
was well on the way, and the battle clearly opened, 
it opened in volume and with its usual accuracy 
over our trenches, shrapnel and high explosive 
together. Orderlies a.nd runners and other messengers 
were buried again and again on their way forward 
or back. Observers could not penetrate the smoke 
and dust. German prisoners, who had surrendered 
to the first waves, oscillated backwards and forwards, 
not knowing which danger to face. 

But the battle had little uniformity. Even in 
the midst of the area of failure we won and cleared 
and held four lines of trenches. One group of a 
hundred men north of Beaumont-Hamel consolidated 



JULY 1 : FROM THE FIELD 75 

the fourth trench, and fought there till four in the 
afternoon. The enemy was now counter-attacking 
them from the front and both wings, chiefly with 
bombs. It was certain death to look over the 
trench even for a second, as of course the parapet 
was on the wrong side ; and so rifles could scarcely 
be used. They could only stay where they were 
and throw bombs half blindly in the direction of 
the bombs that came. But they held on " till the 
word went round that there was no more ammuni- 
tion." No officers were left ; and two N.C.O.'s and 
a few men " met to discuss." They decided to run 
for it ; and thanking their stars for a ground, com- 
pact of shell holes, a few of the relic hundred joined 
their unit before night. One of the lucky men 
spent an hour of the time within 30 yards of the 
trench he left, tending a wounded friend. Until it 
was dark he never could move more than 10 or 
12 yards at a time, or in any way other than by 
little dashes from shell hole to shell hole. 

In spite of the intensity of the assault, the severest 
losses befell those who started later. Our artillery 
had lifted to more distant targets. The wind had 
cleared the field of smoke and dust. The German 
officers had reorganized their men for defence and 
their artillery observers had a clearer field. The 
result was that any troops marching forward to 
answer the call of some distant signal — in Serre or 
the hollow of Beaumont-Hamel — drew every bullet 
before ever they reached the protection of an enemy's 
trench. But they too marched "as on parade/' 
fighting as gloriously as the rest, though they fired no 
rifle, used no bayonet, and exercised no separate will. 



CHAPTER IV 
JULY i : THE ISSUE OF THE DAY 

THE battle of ist July was a great victory, 
though our losses were great, and the 
success small over more than half the 
front. We aimed at a deep advance on the 
right, where we joined the French. On our left, 
the extreme north of the attack, we sought 
only to pinch out the little salient of Gomme- 
court. The measure of success almost marched 
with the degree of ambition. The utterest failure 
was north of Gommecourt ; the crowning success 
at Montauban. In one respect the Germans were 
deceived. They expected the great attack to be 
centred at Gommecourt and to extend upwards 
towards Arras as well as down to the river Ancre ; 
and round the centre were accumulated their most 
powerful batteries. At all parts of the northern 
attack, from the zero hour of 7.30 a.m. for many 
continuous hours, the enemy's guns — closely con- 
centrated and of full calibre — set up a triple barrage. 
Through all these three barrages of intense ' fire 
our men marched quite steadily, ""as if nothing was 
in the way, as if they were under review. At every 

step men fell ; and our trenches here are very far 

76 



JULY 1 : THE ISSUE OF THE DAY 77 

apart from the German. But our steady, steadfast 
soldiers, true to the death, paraded in more than 
decimated numbers through and across the third 
barrage. The enemy — in their turn heroic — left 
their trenches, erected machine-guns on the parapets, 
and the two parties fought one another in the open. 

Heroism could no further go. Our men died, 
and in dying held in front of them enough German 
guns to have altered the fate of our principal and 
our most successful advance in the south. 

They died defeated, but won as great a victory 
in spirit and in fact as English history or any history 
will ever chronicle. 

If we leave out the small event north of Gomme- 
court, the battle may be most easily envisaged as 
a number of separate actions, for the country is of 
such a nature that very distinct barriers separated 
the various divisions and units of attack, though 
all were united in a well-compacted scheme. 

On the peak of Gommecourt itself there was no 
direct attack ; it was left to the ministrations of the 
artillery. But south of it an immortal battle was 
fought by London troops whose mettle has been 
surpassed by none. They fought more or less 
alone, with a German salient on their left and a 
sunken road on their right quite cutting them off 
from immediate contact with the next troops. 
Opposite them, as against the division on their 
right, the German defence also was as perfect as 
defence could be. The dugouts were indestructible. 
The machine-gunners had the guns in position 
within a few seconds after our guns lifted. Where 
we blew a big mine they had already arranged 



78 WITH THE BRITISH ON THE SOMME 

guns to bear on the crater-to-be. The artillery was 
not less precise. Even through this organization 
our troops marched without faltering, line after line. 
The only men who stopped were the dead and 
severely wounded. But those that crossed a trench 
— a certain number crossed them — had no chance 
of holding what they won. They were encircled by 
machine-guns and bombs, and men rose from dug- 
outs all round. It is the crowning marvel of an 
incredible battle that men are alive to-day and ready 
to fight to-morrow who " did the double journey '" 
over the German lines and back. 

Yet they won a sort of victory, even these men, 
for at each trench Germans surrendered, in groups 
large and small, till the total was considerable, 
probably several hundred. 

But behind both prisoners and captives a barrier 
of explosive shell dropped like a portcullis. To 
pass through it untouched was as probable as 
to pass through a thunderstorm unwetted. Never- 
theless the intensity of the intensest barrage varies, 
and when they took some of their prisoners with 
them German shells were impartial. Often the 
captors and a few of the captives came through 
whole, more crept back " on broken wing " ; and 
every man, whether hale or maimed, knowing that 
his only avenue to life was through the gate of 
death, felt that he kept his life by a miracle. So 
many score of times he might have been killed and 
was just not killed. And he had found death at 
every turn — in the advance, in the holding, and in 
the retreat. 

The hours within the German trenches were a 



JULY 1 : THE ISSUE OF THE DAY 79 

battle in themselves. Parties of German grenadiers 
attacked them from front and both sides. A 
wounded man or two would hold the mouth of a 
communication trench against a troop continually 
recruited. The store of bombs, though increased 
by those captured from the enemy and used with 
good effect, progressively failed ; and in the sequel, 
so keenly they fought, it was the failure of supplies, 
more than the impossibility of their tactical position, 
that persuaded them to retreat. Their losses were 
heavy, but they had inflicted heavy losses, and the 
enemy — on this occasion generous as well as 
courageous — helped in the saving of the wounded 
with which No Man's Land was strewn. His 
stretcher-bearers at one spot brought our wounded 
even to the edge of our trenches. 

South of the Londoners, at a certain remove, was 
a gap in the infantry fighting, and beyond that 
gap, at a point in front of Hebuterne, the third 
engagement was waged. It was sterner than any 
fought in our annals. I say so with exact knowledge 
of the names of every battalion in the attack, their 
losses, their aim, and in the rough how they fared ; 
but a volume would not contain the passion of the 
true history of their few hours' experience on the 
morning of ist July. 

The trench line runs at all angles and the ground 
is up and down. You must not imagine the men 
as rushing forward levelly, in review formation. 
It was, of course, a frontal attack, but not on that 
account simple. The alignment of the men was 
one of the difficulties. Although the general attack 
was easterly, some troops moved in a southerly 



80 WITH THE BRITISH ON THE SOMME 

direction — for example, along the valley up to 
Beaumont-Hamel — and some moved north-east. 
It says much that in no instance was the direction 
mistaken or the aim muddled. In open order, 
some four yards apart, with appropriate distances 
between the waves, the men advanced punctually 
to the programme, not running, but marching 
quickly. 

The concentrated cannonade of the enemy's 
artillery was the worse because the dullness of the 
weather made counter-battery work difficult for 
the gunners. " You will never win the village till 
such and such batteries are knocked out," said a 
French officer who had himself made an earlier 
attack. They were not knocked out, yet no single 
soldier quailed before this fire, or heeded the many 
gaps. " With what a majesty the British soldier 
fights." Not a shirker was discovered. Each 
several line moved "as on parade ' to its place 
in the enemy's lines, starting at the moment our 
artillery fire lifted. 

Against them, as against the Londoners on their 
left, the front-line trenches were held by large 
numbers of troops ; and as our men came through 
the curtain of shells they met this other enemy, 
in force equal to themselves. " Nothing could 
have stopped us but an opponent of the highest 
daring, selected and prepared for a battle he thought 
to be final." So said one of our generals imme- 
diately after the battle. The Germans came out 
of their trenches even in the midst of the final 
bombardment by our mortars, fixed their machine- 
guns on the parapets or in No Man's Land, and 



JULY 1 : THE ISSUE OF THE DAY Si 

concentrated their fire, some point-blank, some 
from enfilading angles with skill and coolness. 
Strong places, which had been crunched to morsels 
by our artillery, still held armed garrisons. Indeed, 
from the ruins of Beaumont-Hamel, the strongest 
of all the villages, a heavy trench mortar fired a 
few minutes after our artillery lifted. 

How any troops reached as far as the German line 
is hard to believe, but regiment after regiment 
penetrated to this first and even remoter objective. 
Middlesex, Devonshire, Worcestershire, Hampshire, 
Lancashire, South Wales, Dublin, Inniskilling, the 
Border, and Fusiliers from many quarters fared in 
this heroic pilgrimage. They entered the German 
trenches, and carried out their instructions in every 
detail. The losses varied greatly, owing partly to 
the nature of the ground, but perhaps more to the 
accident of the drift of smoke. Moving on a south- 
west wind in a steady diagonal, it hid some and 
left others conspicuous. Success depends largely 
on squaring and timing the artillery fire with the 
infantry advance, and the progress of the troops 
must depend on a hundred circumstances beyond 
previous calculation. Those that are delayed face 
an enemy no longer worried by shells, and endure 
the full handicap of the attack. The artillery cannot 
wait for them or alter the programme or attend to 
infantry signals which may be bogus or mistaken. 

Even the defence had trouble in this way. A 
small party of our men pushed right through to 
Serre, a mile at a rush, and sent up signals. The 
German batteries, thinking we were in possession, 
at once began — so it is alleged — to shell the village 
6 



82 WITH THE BRITISH ON THE SOMME 

(though at the time it contained a mass of their 
men and a mere fragment of ours). Here, as else- 
where, probably the one tactical mistake made by 
our intrepid infantry was a too great eagerness to 
signal their arrival. 

From the medley of conflicting reports, returned 
by a multitude of observers, it seemed that the most 
solid success of the advance was south of Beaumont- 
Hamel over the ridge flanking the Ancre. This 
important hill descends rapidly to the river on the 
south and is cut off from the ridge running north 
and east by a hollow in which flows a tiny brook. 
Over the slope went the Inniskillings with great 
dash, and disappeared down into the dust of the 
valley beyond. On their right the Ulsters had 
advanced astride the River Ancre, and calling out 
'-■ No surrender," went right through the blasts of 
shrapnel and beyond, where three machine-guns, 
in front and on either flank, caught them. They 
had even time and spirit to baptize places with good 
north Irish names : Inniskilling, Omagh, Strabane. 
They took prisoners and sent them back through 
the storm. When the prisoners showed fear of the 
German fire, their shepherd said, " Just you go 
across, and we'll look after you when you're there." 

They organized a defence and broke up with 
great losses to the enemy a vigorous counter-attack. 
In spite of the amazing bravery of supporting troops, 
they were so short of ammunition supplies and so 
exhausted by fourteen hours of this fighting that 
the only possible counsel was retirement. And, 
vast as the losses were, they brought a remnant 
safe back, running the gauntlet of machine-gunners 



JULY 1 : THE ISSUE OF THE DAY 83 

who had risen from the earth behind them and 
from strange hiding-places in the trees. 

When it was seen that they were through all 
seemed well. Here was a victory to push home. 
A strong support was sent forward in their wake, 
and though the valley and dust swallowed them 
the signals indicated that the objectives were won. 
A second support went forward, and later in the 
day a third. 

This third was the Newfoundland Regiment. 
They advanced over the hill where it sloped to 
the north-west. The smoke had cleared, and the 
enemy, so far from being overrun and righting for 
his life, was now doubly ready. The artillery fire 
had lifted and the smoke cleared, and the angle of 
attack became definite. Germans, arisen from 
caves and dugouts, had cut off the patrols, the 
groups, the bits of regiments that had penetrated 
here, there, and everywhere to Serre, to Beaumont- 
Hamel, to the brook, to the fourth lines of trenches, 
and had announced their success. So the New- 
foundlanders were met as soon as they appeared 
on the ridge with a converging machine-gun fire, 
especially from their left, where the north slope 
across which they marched lay exposed to a south- 
easterly slope held firmly by the Germans and packed 
with guns. They did not waver. They hold with 
a Middlesex regiment the crown of sacrifice in a 
battle which in that small area seemed almost a 
defeat. 

It was in truth victory, a part of a greater battle 
triumphantly won at the vital spot. The news from 
Montauban was the reward, and these men had 



84 WITH THE BRITISH ON THE SOMME 

done as much to win it as the troops, both British 
and French, who were taking prisoners by the 
thousand from the German trenches and dugouts 
above and below the Somme. 

The field of this great battle is cut in half by 
the Ancre. The Ulsters, who were astride the river, 
divided success from failure. They themselves won 
ground at Thiepval — though most of it was lost 
later — and so shared in both fortunes. They were 
for a while the pivot or hinge of the advance, 
swinging a little themselves. 

But the story of the southern battle is best begun 
from the southern end. The narrative flows most 
logically from the capture of Montauban. There 
our trenches faced the German along a ridge bare 
of everything except the flowers of such gorgeous 
weeds as the poppy, cornflower, charlock, and 
scabious. After the battle these still decorated our 
abandoned line, but not the German, stretching 
more than a hundred yards higher up the slope. 
The contrast was abrupt. The enemy's line had 
lost all shape and become a chaos of pits and piles 
and ridges, the most notable tribute to our heavy 
artillery fire that any soldier had seen. When I 
wandered over the whole area not long after the 
battle, some few dugouts remained whole in the 
first line, but everything in the next line was quite 
obliterated and the whole was as brown as if just 
ploughed. 

Here two brigades recently recruited from 
Lancashire towns, especially Manchester, faced 
some very stalwart Bavarian troops. The attack- 
ing part of these two brigades was over the first 



JULY 1 : THE ISSUE OF THE DAY 85 

German line at 7.32 a.m. on Saturday morning, 
" two minutes after the pistol sounded/' Smoke 
clouds served them well over one section, and 
when they reached the trenches, in force little 
diminished, many Bavarians, tired and cowed by 
shell fire, surrendered. We were helped by the 
proverbial precision of the French 75's, exploding 
as close in front of our men as if the gunners were 
on the spot and not two to three miles away. We 
captured, among much other material (much of 
which I saw as it was being collected), three field- 
guns, four machine-guns, and three Minenwerfer. 

The soldierly qualities of the men were illustrated 
as much in the defence as the attacks. The trenches 
they fortified by Montauban had been so ploughed 
and harrowed by our artillery that they were little 
or no protection. But the work of consolidation 
went so quickly that an hour or two later they 
were able to throw back with terrible losses to the 
enemy and small to themselves the most deter- 
mined counter-attack delivered by the Germans at 
any part of the field. The troops on their left 
(held up by machine-gun fire from a redoubt nick- 
named the " Warren " and less well served with 
smoke) went more slowly. But they went surely 
and were very well led by their officers. The East 
Surreys made a famous charge, and were able to 
direct other troops round the worst of the machine- 
gun fire. 

By steady and persistent fighting the worst 
danger-spot was passed ; the supporting troops, 
who advanced rather to the right of their original 
line, filtered down to the left ; and so, though some 



86 WITH THE BRITISH ON THE SOMME 

Germans were left behind, they took and fortified 
a good line running from Montauban westwards 
to an orchard and beyond it. The " Warren " was 
finally ferreted out and some eight hundred prisoners 
captured. On the victory here the successes of the 
following days, weeks, and months were founded. 

The advance at Montauban was the deepest. 
The ground won here sloped to a narrower band 
tapering towards Mametz, a village down the slope, 
separated by a narrow valley from Fricourt. The 
German trenches were taken at the gallop all along 
this line, but the village and trenches beside it 
made a redoubtable fort, not much the less strong 
for being a mass of ruins almost indistinguishable. 

Gordons and Devons especially distinguished 
themselves by charging through a tornado of 
machine-gun fire from gunners who had arisen 
from impermeable dugouts. In spite of heavy 
losses and the consequent confusion (after the 
fighting many a north-countryman and south- 
countryman lay each in the line of the other's 
front, a pitiful record of the day), both regiments 
went straight through, bombed the machine-gunners 
to death, held the line, and later, by swinging 
forward their left up the valley, completely mastered 
the village. 

Trenches were soon pushed out beyond it and 
preparations made for the final coup — the capture 
of the Fricourt salient. Fricourt village, the 
strongest place in the line, was left to the enemy, 
unattacked. On the other side of it an amazing 
fight was fought. This German promontory of 
Fricourt, flanking the right of the advance, was full 



JULY 1 : THE ISSUE OF THE DAY 87 

of undestroyed machine - guns (I found the very 
emplacements two days later), and before the end 
of the day it was given rather a wider berth than 
was at first intended. But, in face of every menace, 
up the great bare regular hill in front of them the 
troops, most of them English, struggled so per- 
sistently that at the end of the day they reached 
the landmark at the top, sent up a signal that 
they were in Crucifix Trench, under the conspicuous 
Calvary and line of trees that fringe the slope. 

The difficulties were of every sort. A message 
had reached them that the division on the left had 
won all along the line, but the news was premature. 
The advance was an advance only of small groups 
who could not make good the ground till later. 
So this division was running a double gauntlet 
between walls of enemies. Machine-guns fired from 
right flank and left flank, sweeping^all lateral roads 
clean. Our officers were picked off by snipers, who 
stood beside each enemy's machine-gunner. Crucifix 
Trench, which had been knocked to pieces by our 
guns, gave poor shelter and was bombarded heavily 
from ten to twelve on Saturday night by the enemy. 
But our miners, including the Durham Light 
Infantry, fought a great fight, and the men did 
more than hold firm. They made sallies and 
pushed out little efforts everywhere, especially in 
the small woods. 

I saw a score of these efforts from the opposite 
hill during the next two days. This new army 
division — who for no fault of their own had 
partially failed in a previous battle — began an 
advance which, lasted without intermission for 



88 WITH THE BRITISH ON THE SOMME 

three days and three nights. They fought up the 
hill and over the crest, always advancing but 
never gaining the length of a cricket pitch without 
close and bitter opposition. 

The next day you could tell by the bodies lying 
on the field just where the machine-guns had mown 
a swathe, and what troops — at the point all were 
English county troops — had " faced the music " 
nevertheless. They had crossed a sunken road, 
exactly as a driven rabbit would cross a ride, with 
expert shots on either side. Some were left in 
the road, but some got over. 

The advance never ceased, in spite of all, till the 
full objective was attained, the end reached, the 
aim won after seventy hours. And it was all 
intelligent righting, never blind. Once when they 
were checked, lighter trench mortars, which did 
admirable work throughout, were hurried forward, 
the artillery were informed, and a flanking piece 
of trench cleared by bombs. Then the advance 
went on as before. 

Scores of individual feats of daring were recorded. 

A machine-gunner (who had made one of a small 
party feeling their way into Birch Tree Wood 
towards the right) found himself in the sequel all 
alone, forced to hide for the whole night in a shell 
hole, while the wood was being blown to pieces. I 
had seen that very bombardment from the opposite 
hill by our artillery. Incidentally he killed one 
German officer who had painfully raised himself on 
his haunches to shoot one of our wounded. 

In front of Crucifix Trench, to the left, the enemy 
made repeated bombing attacks from a redoubt. 



JULY 1 : THE ISSUE OF THE DAY 89 

In reply, a wounded officer and a handful of men 
even made an effort to take this hornets' nest 
themselves. It was not finally captured until the 
third night, but in it there surrendered 700 prisoners ; 
400 more were taken in Crucifix Trench. Two other 
woods, where German machine-guns had successfully 
hidden, were occupied earlier. 

In the end, after two days of bulldog righting 
scarcely surpassed in the war, the division joined 
hands with troops advancing through and behind 
Fricourt. The German line, the strongest fortifi- 
cations ever elaborated on the field, was broken, 
and a mile and more of land behind it carried 
and made strong. 

There remains the battle of two divisions opposite 
Boiselle and a part of Thiepval. Opposite Boiselle 
an enormous mine was blown, the largest as yet 
seen. It is now a cemetery, and men are buried 
in the chalk sides just as they fell. Past this crater 
the charge went welL It was here that the Tyne- 
siders, altogether irresistible, dashed straight through 
to Contalmaison, where we found some few of the 
wounded six days later. But at no part in the 
line was the German device of bending to the storm 
and rising when the blast was over quite so deadly. 
The first waves went clean through, and messages 
of their success were sent off. But the enemy rose 
quickly and in great numbers behind them from 
the cellar trenches. Some machine-guns were 
directed at the backs of the men who had passed, 
some at the later waves as they advanced. In the 
sequel the leaders were quite cut off and the rest 
stopped. The first attack had failed ; but it was 



90 WITH THE BRITISH ON THE SOMME 

repeated with as fine determination as any troops 
showed, and in spite of the set-back the village 
was won the next day and an awkward position 
made good. 

Yet harder work and not less deadly befell the 
troops opposite Ovillers and part of Thiepval. 
They faced a dominant position, held by picked 
troops who had remained constant to fortresses 
they regarded with personal pride. Between our 
attacking trenches and the German was a very 
wide and very open space on an up-slope, obnoxious 
to direct and enfilading fire. The men to whom 
this task was given had fought with conspicuous 
determination at the Hohenzollern Redoubt and 
other hot centres of struggle ; and here they made 
a new reputation. The punishment received as 
they delivered the assault across this unprotected 
front affected their determination as little as a 
breath of contrary wind. The impossibility of 
reinforcing the storming party with either men or 
munitions compelled retreat at the end of the day ; 
but the Leipsic Redoubt, a corner-stone of the 
German defence, remained in our hands, and its 
possession opened the path to those three brilliant 
assaults that won us Thiepval two months later. 

No battle, no period of warfare in our annals 
proved the doggedness of British will in more 
stubborn fashion than the struggle of the divisions 
fighting between Fricourt and the Ancre. Each 
won its way by inches, almost without artillery 
aid. The infantry were so close to the enemy, 
often in so confused a shape that no cannon of 
longer range than a trench mortar could be used. 



JULY 1 : THE ISSUE OF THE DAY 91 

The most persistent, most daring, most intelligent 
men won by virtue of their human quality. In 
the days that followed, the whole of Ovillers and 
the barrens round and about it were won by sheer 
grit, what the German philosophers call the will to 
conquer. If that will is the hall-mark of the 
superman, then our civilian soldiers are more than 
human. Throughout this neighbourhood our 
county troops — Wilts, Warwicks, Gloucesters, 
Surreys, Kents, Sussex, Hertfordshires, and a 
number beside — played as great a part as the 
Australians who took up the torch at Pozieres or 
the Middlesex in the final attack at Thiepval. And 
to say that is to say as much as can be said of any 
of the stuff of the fighting soldier. 

Perhaps it gives a wrong impression to treat the 
attack on ist July as a separate event, but it will 
always remain a day of days in our history. 
Waterloo is an episode compared with it. The 
New Army then tried its strength, stormed a 
position often attacked and thought impregnable, 
a position held by troops trained for the dominance 
of the world and equipped with all the death- 
dealing weapons that a devilish science could invent 
or a devilish desire multiply. 

Only those who were in France at the time and 
among the civil population can understand the effect 
of the battle on public opinion. It was a pity that 
wholly fantastic stories of British losses spiead 
abroad, to be afterwards reported in German wireless 
messages to neutral countries. But these were an 
aftergrowth. The courage, the calmness, the cheer- 
fulness of the British soldier was the theme of 



92 WITH THE BRITISH ON THE SOMME 

France. Some said it was " magnificent, but not 
war " ; but this view steadily faded before the 
solid success of the following months ; and ever 
after from that day the British soldier was looked 
upon as a being who could smile in the face of 
death with a quiet faith stronger than the hope 
of glory or the passion of hate. 

The day must remain cardinal in our annals for 
every reason. For the first time in history the 
British nation, as a force embracing and annulling 
the old little gallant army, tried its 'prentice strength 
in a great battle ; and it fleshed its teeth against 
the greatest enemy in the world, an enemy who 
for years had willed war, had harnessed the passive 
flesh and blood of its manhood, not less than the 
engines of its science, to the work of destroying 
its neighbours and plundering their country. 

As the latest move in this campaign of dominance, 
begun forty years ago and more, it had for tressed 
this veteran army in more than Cretan labyrinths 
of earth, on the slopes and crests of hills behind 
which roared the great engines that were to co- 
operate with the lesser devilries of chemistry and 
mechanics, to the obliteration of the peace and 
power of France and Britain and their allies. 

The battle that opened in the mist of the summer 
morning was a thing by itself ; yet also part of a 
sequence. It was the sequel to near two years of 
inordinate struggle, and it lasted at high pressure 
for five months, through the heats of summer and 
the rains and mists of autumn, lulling only when in 
the dark days of winter the soaked earth refused 
to part with its moisture ; and fighting became a 



JULY 1 : THE ISSUE OF THE DAY 93 

crude struggle with mud and bodily weariness. 
We may take as its end the achievement of its first 
purpose — the capture of Beaumont - Hamel on 
14th November, rounding off the possession of the 
twin bastions of Thiepval, just across the Ancre, 
and the high land, about the little hamlet of Ginchy, 
on our southern and right wing. 



CHAPTER V 
ON THE BATTLE-FIELD 

A GREAT chalk hill, now mangled and over- 
grown out of all likeness to cultivated land, 
runs behind the Peronne road, which may be 
taken as the base of our great advance. For two 
years no one has been able to show a head there 
without risk of losing it. You moved only in deep 
and winding trenches, and if you looked through a 
slit in the parapet you were at pains to have no 
light behind when you withdrew the sand-bag 
curtain from the crevice. Such underground life 
was of the atmosphere of the whole war. The 
coming of a time when men should prefer the open 
to the tunnel was a prospect scarcely present to 
the imagination. When the change came it was 
difficult to grasp its reality. " Can this be true ? ' 
we asked. It was so true that on 2nd July I 
picnicked, strolled, stood tiptoe on mounds within 
full sight of the fighting and ran no risk. 

Did ever man watch modern battle in such tran- 
quillity ? I felt like the figures in the old illustra- 
tions of Froissart where perspective drawing was 
not in fashion and men stood winding crossbows 
within arm's length of a drawn long-bow. Yet the 

94 



ON THE BATTLE-FIELD 95 

battle just across the valley was as bloody and bitter 
as any in history, and in every way more full of 
terror. 

Old soldiers always used to say of this war that 
South Africa was a picnic to it. To us out of the 
hurly-burly the conditions were picnic conditions. 
It was high treason to the God of War so to watch 
his battle. 

The road runs in the valley below, passing the 
village of Fricourt, which was soon to become 
almost a trippers' haunt. On the farther slope the 
battle raged, visible in palpable detail from the 
hither ridge, my vantage-point. Here the ground, 
neglected these two years by cultivators, was 
extravagantly brilliant with poppies, cornflowers, 
corn-cockles, scabious (the blue and the purple), 
charlock, wild geraniums, bladder campion, thistles, 
and many precious little flowers, including gentians. 
All the trenches made brilliant lines of yellow and 
red, where the poppy and charlock weeds had 
fastened on parapet and parados. 

Here you could wander where you would in the 
open, running no risk except for a few spent 
machine-gun bullets from the other hill and perhaps 
a dropping bullet from a fighting or practising 
airman. Both were heard. 

The whine and whirring of the shells overhead 
destroyed the extravagant peacefulness ; but even 
these seemed to encourage nature to assert itself. 
In every battle that I watched from this field the 
larks sang to distraction from an hour before dawn, 
and generally a quail trilled in the undergrowth. 
As for the hawks, they curvetted everywhere. 



96 WITH THE BRITISH ON THE SOMME 

To feel and realize the nature of the fight called 
for an effort of conscious will, though the move- 
ment was visible enough Jand even particular. I 
saw men's arms bowling bombs, and groups of 
surrendering enemy were so big as to be unmis- 
takable with the naked eye. The observer saw a 
drama moving beyond imagination, but a drama 
without words, without a key to the entrances and 
exits, the comings and goings, the meetings and 
partings. In the course of the Somme battle I 
have watched, as others have watched, a succession 
of episodes compact of human tragedy, of death 
and of triumph over death, but then, and for all 
time, vague as the stuff of dreams. On that 2nd 
day of July, standing among the flowers, I saw hour 
after hour the battle move up the opposite slope 
past Fricourt, towards a drop curtain of smoke- 
pillars and under a canopy of intolerable tumult. 
Little groups of prisoners scuttling back furtively 
gave news of advance and victory ; but victory 
without definition, without nicely pencilled pre- 
cision or satisfied curiosity. You were forced to 
guess at the plot, though certain acts or parts 
and all the scenes were clear enough. 

We were attacking beyond all question. The 
double German barrage was as obvious as the blue 
sky. Our remoter barrier had the conspicuousness 
of an eruption. But what were those eight men 
meaning to do ? What was their part in the plot ? 
What was their fate ? They left the trench. Quite 
soon, just as they passed a patch of chalky soil, 
they lay down. They remained lying down, for an 
hour, for two hours. Some one thought one of them 



ON THE BATTLE-FIELD 97 

moved. Some one thought not. Shells fell here 
and there in front of them, but not mortally near. 
Were they told to lie and wait till the others came 
up, till a machine-gun was silenced ? or were they 
already beyond orders, immortally silent ? 

The spectators will never know, and history will 
only say that the plot came to a proper, a successful 
denouement. But on the brain, on the mind's eye 
of some observers that picture of the eight men 
who lay down beyond the bump of muddy chalk 
will remain stereotyped, quite indestructible, the 
fabric of an unforgotten mystery. 

For many days the panorama of battle, though 
not its living features, was visible from this hill ; 
and the scene changed strangely with the weather 
and the nature of the fighting. A week later one 
stopped there to observe the spectacle of our bom- 
bardment of the second German line. On Sunday, 
the 9th of July, so clear was the air after its washing 
by the thunder rain that the whole battlefield, as 
seen from those almost Olympian thrones on it and 
about it, seemed to have changed its scale. It was 
under a magnifying glass. 

In the valley and up the slope a delta of trenches 
was etched out, each delta separated from the next 
by a great fort or dam : Montauban, Mametz, 
Fricourt,La Boillsee— the whole a maze, labyrinthine, 
Daedalian. Critics talk of crossing one, two, three, 
four German trenches. We crossed fifty, running 
in as many directions as the diagram of a snow 
crystal. 

There are short, fat bunches of trenches ; long- 
legged, vagrant trenches, canal-like trenches, which 

7 



98 WITH THE BRITISH ON THE SOMME 

some foul machine-gun could rake from a forgotten 
village ruin a kilometre away. There are tight, 
narrow trenches, and chambered trenches ; trenches 
in the open ; trenches that play hide-and-seek 
through cellars or among the roots of trees. Trenches 
run horizontally, vertically, diagonally to the front, 
boxing the compass and confounding geometry. 

This system, formed slowly as a real delta is 
formed, we had taken root and branch over an 
8 miles' front, without reckoning minor gains to the 
north and the spacious French gains to the south. 
The atmosphere spaced out the marvel of the 
victory as well as the features of the battle-field. 

In occasional visits to the front during the years 
of stagnancy we had approached the top of this 
Observation Hill without seeing it. It was difficult 
enough to find a point where you could look into 
the valley. All this was changed ; for a week and 
more I almost lived — always in the open — on this 
hill, night and day. Once a poor padre, walking 
in apparent security some fifty yards in front of me, 
was hit by a shell. Once, at a much later date, a 
visitor from England was sent helter-skelter into a 
dugout, where he dived into a group of Scotchmen, 
by the near explosion of the first of a series of shells. 
Occasionally a few odd shells went whining by ; but 
the place in general was as free from danger, or the 
sense of danger, as a place could be. An artillery 
observer or two sat on camp stools and fixed their 
glasses on tripods, aligning them day after day on 
ever-lengthening and more distant targets. All day 
the horizon smoked with constant pillars where our 
batteries were directed ; and fitfully at intervals 



ON THE BATTLE-FIELD 99 

German shells barking, like sulky mastiffs, would 
crowd to this spot or that. At one time they would 
avenue the approaches to Contalmaison, while our 
horses, brave as men, went through without shirking, 
though never without nerves. They too had seen 
the bodies of their predecessors and the remnants 
of limbers and lorries dragged off the fairway to 
make room for the unceasing traffic. 

Up this ridge some of us used to stumble at night, 
tripping over wires, skirting trenches, sheltering in 
rain under old gun emplacements, wading through 
woods of thistles, and as the time went out passing 
through small encampments and hearing the ring 
of a sentry's challenge. For the hill was as wonder- 
ful a vantage point at night as at day. I went there 
to sleep in the open, but the view banished sleep. 
The spectacle was never stale nor the effect the same, 
and often one awaited some great morning attack, 
and was alert to hear the sudden thunder of its 
announcement. The night signals, white and green 
and red, shot up continuously at certain places. 
These we had marked down on the map, duly 
aligned, and could tell just at what point along 
what trenches the enemy or ourselves were growing 
nervous of a night attack. 

The strangeness of these lights is their seeming 
nearness. One of the more intensely bright German 
star-shells — they are hardly less visible by day than 
night — would seem to fall into the thistles a few 
hundred yards down the slope ; and you wondered 
that it did not light up the faces of your companions, 
though you knew it was one of the continuous 
galaxy by which the Germans hoped to anticipate 



100 WITH THE BRITISH ON THE SOMME 

our unceasing attack along their trenches at 
Ovillers and Boiselle, two and three miles away. 

Such scenes had grown curiously familiar and 
almost commonplace to me after a fortnight's 
fighting, but no single night remains so vivid as 
the eve of our great attack on 14th July. I had 
known the preparations for the attack, which was 
of peculiar difficulty. We were to assault the 
German trenches, take the villages of Bazentin 
and Longueval, as well as the woods alongside 
them, in a night venture more complicated than 
had ever been attempted even in manoeuvres. 
The day before, one of the chief generals concerned 
had penetrated into No Man's Land (with a cavalry 
officer, who accompanied him "for fun," as he told 
us) to see with his own eyes whether the wire had 
been properly cut. As I waited on the hill for the 
coming of the zero hour of 3.30 in the morning, I 
could imagine the new troops of his division who 
were to make the first charge creeping forward 
into No Man's Land and massing in the trenches ; 
and so real was the picture on the mind's eye that 
dim lumps of earth close in front took on the 
semblance of crouching men, and the still slope 
below was as full of fighting men as the real battle 
scene in Caterpillar valley. A day of battle doubles 
sensation and vitalizes movement. And we had all 
been waiting, listening, watching, till every sense 
was at the pitch of alertness, except the sense of 
hearing, which was utterly dulled by the continuous 
dinning of the guns. 

Yet how old and familiar everything was : old 
and familiar in this strange war the larks that long 



ON THE BATTLE-FIELD 101 

before dawn persisted in singing through the gun- 
thunder as if they had " a faculty for storm and 
turbulence " ; the whistling quail in the weed- 
flowers ; the aeroplanes that shot in the half-dark 
straight as a bullet for the battle ; and after dawn 
the ugly bulbous balloons swaying in the wind. 

Nevertheless, excitement made all new. 

In the very summit of the bombardment, just 
before the attacking moment, for which one waited 
watch in hand, I looked vaguely at the obscurity of 
a familiar landscape, when mysteriously out of the 
enchantment of the twilight there stood out (almost 
stepped out of the gloom) the rank of well-known 
places in a new guise : the skeleton of Contalmaison, 
the corpse of Fricourt, the pyre of the wood. A 
cessation of gun-fire would have startled one less. 

It was curious to observe how long the battle 
lights of the armies continue to outface the growing 
daylight. The signals sent up by ourselves and by 
the enemy were so many and so mingled as to 
confuse the very elect. A fire lit by our guns in 
Longueval was mistaken for the redness of sunrise ; 
and a novel signal, made with a rush of red fire like 
a Bessemer furnace, was thought to be a colossal 
shell burst behind the trees. Even after daybreak 
clouds still threw back the cannon flashes and 
Germans made sight more certain by showers of 
Verey lights. 

However close you are to the fighting, unless you 
are a very part of it, a sense of unreality envelops 
the scene. You catch the turbid glimpses, as of a 
formless moon, half revealed and half concealed 
by a drift of stormy wrack. From this half- limbo 



102 WITH THE BRITISH ON THE SOMME 

of unsatisfied wonder an irresistible compulsion 
drives one to the very place where fighting has 
been. Under such attraction some of us on 3rd July 
descended from the flowery slope into the valley of 
the shadow, past the guns, across the road, and 
into the village and wood of Fricourt. You could 
see there nothing of the battle, though it raged 
half a mile or less in front and now and then a 
great shell re-ploughed the soil or re-ruined the 
waste of houses. There in the valley nothing was 
indistinct, nothing dimly glorious. The pomp of 
war was immobilized in the ruin of its own creation. 
The dead lay where they fell beside the dead houses, 
and what movement there was, was the movement 
of the stretcher-bearers. 

A glorious division had charged the trenches 
running south from the village of Mametz. One 
group of Gordons and Devons caught by a machine- 
gun — which the few survivors destroyed — lay in 
all the attitudes and abandonment of death, one 
single figure half propped up by the bayonet 
which had run into the ground. Along with them, 
dead as they, lay their little mascot terrier, '■' true 
to death " as in the old epitaph. He was not 
humble enough to escape the swing of the scythe, 
the serried sweep of machine-gun bullets, which the 
Germans delight to aim low, to spray as a water- 
hose sprays, that the live may fall, and the wounded 
be killed, and the dying exterminated. But a 
battle-field after victory is robbed of some of its 
sting. The very attitudes of the dead, fallen 
eagerly forward, have a look of expectant hope. 
You would say that they died with the light of 



ON THE BATTLE-FIELD 108 

victory in their eyes. These men by Mametz 
went a quarter of a mile in the open, starting 
from trenches farther back than they had meant. 
Germans from the woody slope opposite had marked 
the place of the assaulting trench, and filled it 
in with 5 -9 shells. Indeed, firing at this place 
became a habit. Though you could walk in comfort 
anywhere else, it was always " unhealthy " just 
there where the trench had been destroyed below 
the village. 

The oppression of a battle is the sight of your own 
dead ; but on a field of victory such as this, the 
shrinking muddle of the German dead lying in the 
ditches or just outside emplacements and dugouts, 
as they began to flee, was more deeply touched with 
the horror of war. If our men were as signposts 
on the road to victory, these men, more distinctly 
still, pointed the way to fear and defeat. 

A battle-field not yet swept of its debris — and 
this will take years to sweep — is not a place visited 
for pleasure, but at least it serves for tribute to 
the irrepressible gallantry and endurance of soldiers. 
On the bright, pleasant Sunday morning succeeding 
the opening of the battle, the wounded were still 
being salved, and it was not yet time to attend to 
the dead. As I crossed the fields beyond the 
Peronne road on the way to Mametz, the stretcher- 
bearers passed me in successive groups, bearing 
yesterday's wounded, some British, some German. 

What the Germans had gone through was written 
on every yard of the captured ground. Their 
trench de luxe on the near side of Mametz village 
was virtually filled in by our shell-fire. Many of 



104 WITH THE BRITISH ON THE SOMME 

the dugouts were still completely blocked. Into 
others, where the doorways were clear, our stretcher- 
bearers descended by flights of twenty and twenty- 
five steps, to find at the bottom heaps of dead, and 
among them here and there a few still breathing. 

It was a task of both delicacy and strength to 
rescue these wounded from the dead, to lift them 
up the broken and narrowed stairway, and carry 
them, often without recourse to a trench, back to 
the dressing-station. But the men attended to 
these half-buried creatures as if they had been 
friends ; and it would need a more than stony 
heart not to be glad to watch at close quarters the 
men at their life-saving work and to see that the 
spirit of that Sunday morning — or native kindness 
— was strong on them to make no distinction 
between friend and enemy. And the Germans were 
grateful. " They are very kind," was the general 
refrain ; and when a man who has lain out twenty- 
four hours has the force to say such a thing, he 
means what he says. 

The patrol of the stretcher-bearers, the absorbing 
business of saving life and diminishing pain, lends 
some humanity to the after-day of battle. You 
forget the dead in the living ; just as the stretcher- 
bearers themselves, even in the hottest parts of 
the fight, will forget shells and bullets when once 
they have found their wounded man and begun to 
place him on the stretcher. Though they were 
trembling and livid with fear before, from that 
moment the sting of the nervousness, the sense of 
brutality in the scene leaves them. They too are 
no longer fighting in cold blood. 



ON THE BATTLE-FIELD 105 

A battle-field is more forbidding on the third 
day than the first or second — or so it seemed to me. 
My memory of 2nd July near Mametz is of life- 
savers at work. My memory of Fricourt wood and 
village on 3rd July is of a violated graveyard ; and 
the sense of all subsequent fields, save one, was the 
same. Wherever a man went in the wake of battle, 
he stumbled over a country shaken by more than 
an earthquake in a land of extinct civilizations — 
past old battery positions, like the halls or gateways 
of departed mansions, tangles of wire, and blind 
trenches ; shell holes, brown and new, or gorgeous 
as sunken gardens, with thyme and forget-me-nots 
and poppies ; new and hidden batteries that hit 
and punched you unaware with an intolerable 
blast ; skeletons of horses and horses dead since 
yesterday ; trees all wrenched and torn and pitted 
by fire ; buildings, separate or in groups, with 
never a room or corner fit for anything but road- 
making. 

When through such a country on the morning of 
3rd July I walked down the slope to Fricourt, the 
German guns by some miracle were almost silent. 
The once neat village lying snug and prosperous 
at the foot of the protective wood might have been 
shattered in an exhausted earthquake. The living 
enemy gave no sign ; and as you approached you 
saw no dead : the dead are always modest, lying 
as obscure as they may. But the battle-field was 
still unswept, as presently each step disclosed ; 
and I was conscious of feeling a great relief 
when the first body was a German, a victim of 
the gallant East Yorkshireman who lay beyond. 



106 WITH THE BRITISH ON THE SOMME 

Every yard of the village was strewn with the 
debris of ordinary life as well as of war. So one 
would expect of " homes " — save the mark ! — cosily 
inhabited for a year or more. The blankets were 
half thrown back from the beds. Beer-bottles, 
cigarette tins, toilet things lay there alongside 
trenching tools, " hair-brush ''* grenades, — un- 
broached, like the beer-bottles, — many bandoliers 
full of cartridges, and here and there little works 
of art carved by the householder in his spare 
moments. 

In some dugouts candles were still burning. 
One could have carried away tons, wagon-loads of 
mementoes if one's principal idea — I speak for 
myself — was not to forget the scene as soon as 
might be. The memento mori is not an adorable 
souvenir. 

It is useless at this date in a war of necessary 
iconoclasm to describe a ruined village, even if it 
is hot with the horror of battle. But here I saw 
one pregnant symbol which might serve for a 
painter of the madness of war. A single cultivator 
or shallow plough remained untouched among the 
dust and rubble. I suppose it had stood in the 
yard of the farmer's house ; but now street and 
house and yard were quite indistinguishable, 
except where a trench revealed foundations. I 
mistook a revolving convgrirder for an engine of 
war, and found a ploughshare used in the defence 
of a dugout. Yet the summit of destruction is still 
incomplete. In spite of the upheaval of bricks 
and mortar and the eruption of earth from under 
the very foundations of the houses, many dugouts 



ON THE BATTLE-FIELD 107 

and machine-gun emplacements were nevertheless 
undamaged. 

It was unpleasant and ghoul-like, and yet in 
some sort exciting, to creep down the pinched 
stairways of the deeper dugouts. You were wise 
to avoid kicking the many "hair-brush" grenades 
left unused ; and once I saw one of our Mills bombs. 
There was always a feeling that you might come 
suddenly upon an inmate, dead or alive ; and some 
were found even later than this crouching frightened 
into corners, afraid either to fight or surrender. 

As I crept up again into the trench from one of 
these lairs, I heard the machine-guns rattle out in 
front with some extra intensity. It was, I think, 
the moment when the final attack was pushed home 
along " Railway Alley " and in " Shelter Wood," 
just over the brow beyond Fricourt. The noise was 
almost a relief. The village was not a wholesome 
place to stay in long, and I had no desire to imitate 
the manner of Marius in the ruins oi Carthage. 
Besides, for the purpose of seeing the progress of 
the battle, it was much better to be on the hill, where 
the flowers grew and the action was visible. 

A battle-ground in the open countty is less 
oppressive. One of the following days I spent some 
hours over the stretch of country in front of Mont- 
auban, where the Manchester troops had routed 
the Bavarians. The causes of victory, the nature 
of the victory, the experiences of the two forces 
on the previous day, were so printed that the mind 
was alert to read the story and could forget for 
moments the stagnant disgust belonging to a field 
of destruction. 



108 WITH THE BRITISH ON THE SOMME 

The scene along this complicated system of German 
ditches and caves in front of Montauban is as diffi- 
cult to convey in words as the sensation aroused in 
investigating it. Standing on a mound of earth 
thrown up by a 12-inch shell, I could see one brilliant 
line of green and red and yellow stretching in- 
definitely along the ridge. This was composed 
of the grass and poppies and charlock growing on 
the parapet of what was our front-line trench till 
1st July. Fifty to a hundred yards beyond it 
stretched a belt of earth, quite 150 yards broad, 
completely weeded of all vegetation whatever. 
It consisted wholly of brown and white pits and 
circular ridges cutting one another in fantastic 
patterns. This was the ex-German system of 
front trenches with their intervening spaces. You 
can still trace the trenches — the biggest is Bres- 
lau Avenue — if you move carefully and watch 
closely, but that is all that remains of the original 
pattern. 

I found one or two dugouts that I could crawl 
into, but one does not crawl twice into a grave if 
one is not forced — even an enemy's grave; so I 
left all but the first alone. Most of the caves 
had openings about the size of a fox's earth or a 
rat's hole. Some were clean vanished, either under 
a mound or in the embrace of a rival pit — a pit 
sometimes 18 feet deep and 26 feet across. One 
cavern had still the lintel of the door intact, and on 
it was written in chalk, " Zum Thai der Liebe/" 
(" At the Sign of Love Valley ! "). An iron pipe 
chimney coming from a miniature grate, with a tin 
of soup hung by wire over it, stuck out from 



ON THE BATTLE-FIELD 109 

another. But the force of destruction could hardly 
go farther. No officer, British or French, had ever 
seen completer ruin. 

The appalling work of battle-field salvage was 
going busily on ; and the stacks of rifles, of cart- 
ridges and cases, of woollen fabric were rising 
only less quickly than shocks in a new corn-field. 
This was one event. In another village close to the 
fighting a most reverent service for a hundred of our 
dead laid out on the earth was being held by three 
padres of different denominations. But in those 
dugouts I had avoided were scores of men whose 
bodies no man will ever find, unless it be the 
ploughman or the architect in the days of peace, 
still too distant to seem real. 

Wherever we crossed the old German front line, 
the battle-field was the strangest and thorniest in 
history. Beaumont-Hamel out-did even Fricourt 
and Montauban. Indeed the men who four months 
later stormed the positions north of the Ancre and 
along it might have been advancing over roofs in 
a street fight. Underneath them were rooms upon 
rooms containing hidden and unsuspected groups, 
and down in the street -trenches below — some 
nearly empty, some crowded — the enemy lifted 
their hands and shouted for mercy or occasionally 
fired into the air. 

Such battle-fields remain uns ear ched orunplumbed. 
Pockets of men, dumps of stores, reserves of weapons 
lie hidden here, there, and everywhere. The scale 
of the hiding-places is on the scale of a town of 
many streets and well-cellared houses. The trenches 
themselves are as tangled as the pattern of a 



110 WITH THE BRITISH ON THE SOMME 

quick-set hedge in winter, and the maze of crooked 
lines, interspersed with dugout holes, extends to a 
breadth of over a mile. A section of ground cut 
through Oxford Street would hardly be more intri- 
cate. 

The crowning marvel of the German defence was 
revealed on 13th November on the south bank of 
the Ancre. If you slip along the river road you 
come to an opening about 7 feet high in the clay cliff, 
and when you have penetrated into the secret 
place you find a new world — a Monte Cristo world. 
Even the guns, which thunder to madness outside, 
are blurred to a murmur ; indeed, are often wholly 
inaudible. A sickly reek pervades the place — not the 
reek of dead bodies, though a few wounded men 
from the battle, vainly seeking shelter here, lie where 
they have fallen in the passages. Meat and bread 
perhaps have mouldered in the stores, and the 
volatile dust of the fungus blends with the pungent 
dankness of the clay. 

But those who first entered this cavern had no 
other thoughts than curiosity or apprehension. 
They walked into the unknown, on and on, round 
one traverse after another, until the broad corridor 
— 7 feet high and as much in breadth — was cut by 
another of like sort leading right and left. The leg 
of this T-shaped avenue is about 300 yards, and the 
arms — not yet fully explored — are at least 200. 
Double bedrooms and chambers of various sizes lead 
off from the corridor. Some are papered ; all may 
be lit by electricity, and the upholstery is sufficient. 
Panelling is frequent. How many men could 
barrack here I do not know ; but over 400 enemy 



ON THE BATTLE-FIELD 111 

soldiers took refuge during the attack and filed out 
meekly after it was over. Perhaps the place was 
used as much for a storehouse as a barracks ; and 
we know that quantities of machine-guns and other 
trench weapons were kept there. 

A country-side strewn with dead and with wreck- 
age of all that had value and claimed affection 
should kill any vestige of feelings for the glory of 
war. One dead horse will do that. Crossing 
Fricourt from this side to that, I had felt that I 
should always see war in terms of the gallant East 
Yorkshiremen, who lay dead on the north, and the 
Gordons, Devons, and Manchesters, who lay on 
the south ; but battle-fields were to succeed battle- 
fields day after day, for weeks, for months ; and at 
the end one field was to condense the qualities of all 
the rest. 

On ist July opposite Beaumont-Hamel, the New- 
foundland regiment lost all its officers and nearly 
three-quarters of its men who went into action. 
Nearly two years before that was fought, the village 
was a graveyard, decorated by the German occupants 
with a grand monument to those who had fallen. 
At intervals during all this interval, the ground had 
been pounded, and after every artillery attack the 
wire had been restored and even increased. So thick 
it was and close and wide, it looked from the O.P 
on our side like a broad swathe of newly ploughed 
land, running all straight and broad, across the 
edge of the hill. Finally so many of our shells 
flocked to this spot that the wire, some of it as 
thick as your little finger, was cut up into short 
lengths, twisted into fantastic curves, buried, half 



112 WITH THE BRITISH ON THE SOMME 

buried, tossed loose on the surface, till it seemed 
a part of the soil. 

Then, a full nineteen weeks after the first 
failure, our naval and Scottish troops turned the 
field of defeat into a field of victory. Again, as at 
Fricourt, you could infer the victory, particularize 
the courage, and read, as in a history book, the 
writing embossed over these gentle undulations of 
ground leading along the river to Beaucourt. A 
soldier lay at one spot tightly gripping a German 
with both hands, the two joined in this last embrace 
of hate, just as they fell, both, it is probable, shot 
by a German machine-gun. 

For hereabouts the machine-gun was very busy. 
You could trace the fell course of its discharge by 
many signs, to which the world would wish to shut 
his eyes. And yet no. Every one who has walked 
across the field of battle — and this field perhaps 
above all others — comes away with an admiration 
that is indeed reverence for the men who slowly, 
steadfastly walked that autumn morning one 
hundred yards after another over fields poisonous 
with the enemy's devices. When need was they 
gripped the enemy hand to hand, or they marched 
without wavering across the evil stream of bullets, 
or they jumped, sometimes into, sometimes over, 
trenches thorny with well-armed enemy and volcanic 
with bombs. 

Wire caught and tripped them and tangled 
them as they stumbled on. It was cut and tumbled 
everywhere by artillery work of the highest accuracy ; 
but wire, especially German wire, is indestructible 
as material, and no acres along the front have been 



ON THE BATTLE-FIELD 113 

so roofed with it. It was like vines in a great 
vineyard, but vines planted broadcast. Men were 
shot as they disentangled themselves, coolly as 
you would dislodge a bramble, and if a wounded 
man who had already fallen attempted to shift his 
position he was a dead man ; for in all the fighting 
in this area since ist July the Germans by deliberate 
policy have watered the ground with bullets after 
an attack, and have appointed special snipers to 
fire at any moving object. 

In the gloom and fog of that autumn morning 
the attack somewhat lost evenness and cohesion — 
or so the writing suggests — and the groups missed 
the encouragement of an even charge when every 
man has companions to follow and feels himself part 
of a machine. In this advance one group after 
another relied wholly on itself ; and its reliance was 
not misplaced. Every man, every little assembly 
of men, went forward, in spite of a hundred barriers 
that would have plausibly held up platoons or 
battalions less game than these. They were out to 
win their spurs. He who runs might read the story 
— yesterday. To-morrow the characters will have 
faded : " The finger rubs out the picture." After a 
famous victory such as this every soldier in the 
region is too busy with work and with the living to 
heed the dead. They lie on the field of their fame, 
as they fell, for a day, it may be for several days. 
Then — and soon for a field of battle — with quick 
care and stern reverence the last rites are paid, and 
the field is dressed in the desolation only of material 
things : coils of thorny wire, bits of clothing, 
equipment, torn masks, and broken weapons, and a 
8 



114 WITH THE BRITISH ON THE SOMME 

shattered soil. Only in the caves in the trenches 
will the sterner ordeal await the loiterer and " the 
cleaner " on the battle-field. 

We have had many great fights ; none finer than 
this. It was heroic in every turn and phase. And 
the heroism was nowhere vain. Everywhere it won 
its end, yes, and more than its end. Nor was its 
cost beyond measure as figures go. It is only that 
every fibre of feeling is touched to see one good man 
fallen before he reached the end. 

When the fight was over an astonishing silence 
brooded over the field. The enemy was not using 
his artillery to any great extent. The scene of 
quietude at Fricourt on 3rd July, when we were 
fighting just beyond, was repeated. Both spectacles 
quite stripped war of any glamour or excitement, 
though none so stirred admiration for the glory of 
the British infantry soldier. 

Even as he lies on the field he looks more quietly 
faithful, more simply steadfast than others, as if he 
had taken care while he died that there should be 
no parade in his bearing, no heroics in his posture. 
To see him there was to swear an immortal oath 
that his sacrifice should not fail of its end — the 
freedom of his children from the threat of war 
and the unstained liberty of his nation. 



CHAPTER VI 
AN EARLIER FIELD 

A BATTLE-FIELD, which nature takes 
instant pains to hide and man as much 
labour to remember, may be a more moving 
scene when the time is calm and daily life resumed 
than ever it was in the noise and heat of the fighting. 
But on the Somme even nature has had little 
chance to relieve the position, so harassed is the 
field with the coming and going of war and con- 
tinued shelling. And no inhabitants have yet 
returned, as they would, whatever the danger, if 
there were a room or a barn to hold them. How 
often, trapesing over these unlovely surfaces between 
Fricourt and High Wood I have thought of the 
first battle-field that ever I saw in this war. The 
date of the battle was not three weeks past ; and 
yet nature, with man's assistance, had quite re- 
stored the native charm of fields and woods and 
inhabited houses. The war already seemed a 
vague mingling of 

"Old, unhappy, far-off things 
And battles long ago." 

This was in October 1914, in the days when the 
war moved and battles were fought before the 

"5 



116 WITH THE BRITISH ON THE SOMME 

eyes of civilians. The contrast is a help to the 
realization of the outer desolation of the places where 
war has stayed ; and it is a real obligation for the 
people of inviolate England to feel as well as know 
what a battle means in itself and in the eyes of the 
unhappy country people whose village is invaded. 

The beautiful village of Montreuil, tucked neatly 
into its narrow valley, is^ almost a little town. It 
has a tiny factory of embroidery and three inns. 
I reached the spot as it was growing dusk and 
endeavoured to get lodging at one of the " hotels." 
But I failed. " The Germans have stolen every- 
thing : our sheets, our blankets, our tablecloths, 
our napkins, our clothes, our knives and forks, 
even our clocks." As I walked up the street after 
the last failure I met the postmaster, and we began 
to talk. Within a few minutes a circle of villagers 
surrounded us. "He is English," some one had 
said, and the word went round with mysterious 
speed. If anyone wishes to face the difficult task 
of accepting deep and open gratitude let him go to 
any of the French villages between the Marne and 
the Aisne from which the British chased the 
Germans. 

" Oh, but they are fine soldiers." 
" And how quick they march." 
" And they shoot — oh, it is a marvel." 
" What misery it was till the English came and 
saved us. Oh, the brave soldiers." 

There was a slight pause in the chorus. Then 
a woman said : " We have buried some on the hill " ; 
and her daughter : " And we take flowers every day. 
Yes, monsieur, every day ; fresh flowers from the 



AN EARLIER FIELD 117 

gardens and the fields/' Then the postmaster 
hailed a young man who was to join the colours in 
three days and bade him guide me up the hill. We 
passed between the houses, up an open drive, deeply 
trenched by the Germans on one bank ; and so to 
the top of the hill. There was a cart at one side of 
the lane, and the young man, who seemed suddenly 
awkward and nervous and silent, took off his cap. 
We were standing close by the soldiers' grave, which 
the cart and the dusk had concealed from me. A 
comely rustic cross marked the head, and other 
fagoted crosses the surface. Between them were 
dahlias and daisies and even roses from the village 
gardens, and a tight-knit bunch, such as children 
make, of blue succory and other wild flowers. In 
a square about the grave and at some yards' distance 
was cut a neat trench, and on the edge a low rustic 
fence was begun. The young man replaced his 
cap, turned round brusquely, and, with a jerk of 
his hand, said : " We buried the Germans there." 
Within a few yards of the English grave the ground 
was sunk and rough, but for the rest undistinguished 
from the field. There was no mark or ridge even, 
only the spits of earth, half crumbled as thrown up 
by the spade. " We shall put a sign later just to 
show where they were put," said the young man ; 
and we returned to the village, where the night had 
become almost as dark as the unlit houses. 

I spent the night in a hospitable house almost on 
the battle-field. An English bullet was stuck tight 
in the bricks of the gate-post, and my host showed 
me how another bullet had penetrated the sash of 
his bedroom window, passed between the blankets 



118 WITH THE BRITISH ON THE SOMME 

and counterpane of the bed, making a mark like a 
caterpillar under the bark, and fallen spent against 
the opposite wall. But the house was saved by 
lying in a little hollow on the slope. In the morn- 
ing we visited the battle-field. It was sufficiently 
conspicuous, thanks to seven German caissons left 
on the field ; but for the rest nature was covering 
up the traces with strange completeness and speed. 
Yet even without a guide we could have recon- 
structed much of the scene and detected the tactical 
ingenuity of the German colonel. The ground had 
been dug in three patterns. A shallow pit of wide 
dimensions surrounded by a low ridge of earth 
marked the position of the big guns. Round the 
circle of earth and outside it were quantities of 
apples rotting on the ground, and — now withered 
and battered — the big boughs of fruit trees with 
which the batteries had been most persuasively 
masked. The colonel had been too clever to put 
his guns in the wood which was close by. Instead 
he had himself made a new orchard. In these days 
" the woods of Dunsinane " move as a matter of 
course. 

The second pattern or device consisted of deep, 
narrow holes — exploded wasps' nests — with a steep 
ridge of earth in front. They had housed the 
machine-guns. You could detect these holes at a 
distance and in many parts of the field by reason of 
the brilliant greenness surrounding them. They had 
all been cloaked by stooks of ripe grain which had 
already germinated. These hubs of death and 
destruction — as it was meant by their makers — had 
suffered an earth change into the very stuff of peace 



AN EARLIER FIELD 119 

and life, as if to show in perfect symbol that the man 
who sows the grain is the master of us all ; and 
beyond him and his work that things sweet and fresh 
and green, almost before we know it, shall get the 
better of the shortlived evil of wanton madness. 
The third pattern was the soldiers' trench. As we 
entered the field I noticed a covey of partridges rise 
from the unexpected pitch of an abandoned ammuni- 
tion cart. On inspection it was clear that the 
caissons too had been covered with sheaves and 
straw, and the partridges were picking up the relic 
grain even in the hollows where the ammunition had 
lain. The field was strewn with several hundred 
unused shells, spilled and neglected by the fleeing 
Germans. 

Now for the battle itself. The German colonel, 
who had stayed with my host, had been politeness 
itself. When once he had stolen the motor, he 
abstained, like a gentleman, from all petty pillage. 
At an early hour one Wednesday morning he was 
suddenly summoned, and his manner became 
nervous and brusque. He and his brother-officer 
demanded at once strong black coffee in quantity. 
They were given it, not in cups, but in the soup- 
bowls always used in this part of France. The men 
drank off five bowls of this, " till their hearts must 
have beat like bells," as my hostess said. The 
colonel left saying, " There will be a battle. It 
will probably last three days. We shall be back to 
sleep." A little later the first gun was fired. It 
raged from 7 a.m. to 4.30 p.m. without much ap- 
parent change, except that some British infantry 
had pushed up from the hill three miles away to 



120 WITH THE BRITISH ON THE SOMME 

some woods flanking the German position. From a 
slit in the cellar of one of the houses an English 
aeroplane could be seen passing in baffled circles 
round and round the scene. 

In the afternoon a young man who had crept 
out to observe saw this aeroplane turn quickly 
and make straight back to the neighbourhood of 
the British battery, which had begun to fire rather 
spasmodically. There was a pause. Then a sudden 
outbreak, and in ten minutes the battle was over. 
In two of the circles where the six German guns 
had been placed, which at last the airman had de- 
tected, there was a deep hole made by an exploding 
shell, right in the middle, a perfect bull's-eye. " Oh, 
but they shoot well," was no vain compliment. 
The six guns were abandoned and all the ammuni- 
tion. The British infantry advanced rapidly, losing 
some men from the fire of a machine-gun, and a 
few were wounded by cross-fire from their own 
flanking bodies. But the battle was over, and our 
troops came within 400 yards of the Germans, now 
in full retreat. Sixty-one Germans are buried in 
one of the many graves and forty-six in another. 
On the left many prisoners were taken. " The 
colonel," said my host, " was among the slain. 
He did not return to sleep." 

As I walked away on a journey northwards 
nearer the sound of the guns which reached the 
village as a dull boom of little meaning, two peasants 
— a man and his wife — were manuring and ploughing 
the field. The plough and horses and man silhouetted 
against the sky remain a more vivid picture than 
any war scene of them all. 



AN EARLIER FIELD 121 

Nothing of this sort is to be seen over the Somme 
fields. Once, after the rush forward on 15th Sep- 
tember, we reached cultivated fields near War lencourt, 
and one charge was delivered through a field of red 
cabbages. Peasants, men and women, are a brave 
class. They come very close to the lines where 
the battle is stagnant. In Belgium many peasants 
quite disregarded the fighting, and some few were 
forcibly driven away from work between the two 
lines, which were separated in many places by 
cultivated crops. 

A delightful story may be told of the effect of 
the crops on the problems. A brigadier, not too 
fond of visiting his front trenches, came out one 
autumn morning after an exceptionally long absence. 
He entered an observation niche and peered for a 
long time across No Man's Land. At last, turning 
round, he said : " The Germans are preparing to 
attack. Telephone to the artillery. " The artillery 
replied to the message that they would send down 
their own observer. He proved to be a slow and 
quiet young man with a pronounced drawl ; but 
one glimpse assured him that the Germans had 
neither lowered their parapet nor taken away their 
wire as the brigadier feared ; and the message that 
he sent back over the telephone was this : " Don't 
worry, battery. It's only that the turnips have 
grown ! " 

Nothing that is or might have been a turnip 
exists on the Somme field, nor any house nor any 
barn nor any civilian. Even the woods are scarcely 
recognizable. Just to test the ruin, I walked one 
day in a bee-line for four long miles across a country 



122 WITH THE BRITISH ON THE SOMME 

once rich in crops and villages. At no spot any- 
where could I detect the remnant of any crop. I 
passed through one large and one small village, 
and could find no single house or outhouse with 
any remnant of a roof or presentable wall. Never 
once in all the journey was I as much as ten yards 
from a shell hole. Two little woods that I passed 
possessed no single tree of a natural form. A 
number were up by the roots, and the floor was 
strewn with the offal of shells and weapons and 
bits of tree ; and in the midst of each was a single 
field-gun knocked out of all shape and half smothered 
with the twisted steel girders and broken concrete 
blocks that had defended it. 

Will the peasants ever again in this generation 
return to their home-land and work their ploughs ? 



CHAPTER VII 
OVER THE PARAPET 

DURING July and August, and until ~we 
topped the final ridge, it was an easy thing 
to reach points from which the charge of our 
men was visible in detail even to the naked eye. A 
general who asked some of us to come on the morrow 
and watch his men " go over," had that day actually 
faced his own charging troops, so abrupt was the 
salient. The men charged north-east by east. 
His watch-place at iooo yards distance faced north- 
west by west. 

The greatest thing that can be asked of any 
soldier is to " go over the top " in battle as developed 
by German skill in mechanical warfare ; and nothing 
is more characteristic of the nature of the British 
soldier than his humorous discussions of this final 
test. We take our pleasures sadly — nous nous 
amusons trisiement — perhaps; certainly we take 
our pains gaily. The heroism of leaping the parapet 
is laughed into the leapfrog game of " jumping the 
lid." 

On ist July, 100,000 men went over the top, or 
the lid ; and among them all was no straggler. 

' There were no stragglers," said every general, 

123 



124 WITH THE BRITISH ON THE SOMME 

every officer ; and all the elaborate provision of 
military police, ranged to catch the ten per cent, 
of weaklings that belong to every unit, had no work 
to do. The Germans themselves were aghast at the 
cold courage of the advance ; and because it was so 
calm, fantastic stories spread and multiplied through 
Germany, as indeed through France, of the number of 
British casualties. 

Yet it is not always costly to cross the parapet 
or charge prepared trenches. Even on ist July 
we everywhere reached the German trench in con- 
siderable force, even where the distances from 
trench to trench were widest. We reached, but 
did not hold. One of the thorniest places thus 
reached and not held was at the base of the hill 
south of Thiepval, the crowning citadel above the 
River Ancre. Nearly two months later I saw 
intimately, closely, and with the naked eye these 
same trenches taken at the first intention by com- 
paratively small forces, and with light losses. The 
excitement of watching such deadly work from a 
point of almost snug safety was almost intolerable. 
Tied up securely in that observation point, half a 
mile behind the charge, I could follow the fortunes 
of any man I chose ; could see the green German 
figures among the khaki ; could watch this man 
signalling his arrival, this man peering into trenches 
or holes, or running round a hummock, or chasing 
an enemy, or sniping. 

The sight was so vivid that one wanted to cheer 
the men on, to shout, " Well played," and to yell 
applause when praying figures with hands in the 
air came forward begging mercy. One clean forgot 



OVER THE PARAPET 125 

the else intolerable thunder of gun and shell and 
explosion, and the interval that separated the 
spectator from the fighter. The human details 
supplanted even the general progress of the fight 
and then and there, indeed still, remain the master 
impression. 

As to half the battle, we were attacking the old 
German front-line system of fortification eastward 
from the Leipzig Redoubt. Though our two 
storming parties slightly converged, they went 
forward to make what was essentially a frontal 
attack against a line of incalculable strength, 
backed by half a score of lines no whit less formid- 
able — a mad proceeding, surely. But the method 
justified the madness ; and it is enough to say that 
within half an hour Headquarters knew that suc- 
cess was ours, that the losses were few and the 
prisoners numerous. 

Those who saw with their eyes the first charge 
were sure of the victory within five minutes. " I 
was told in my dugout that the English were 
attacking. As I came up the steps I met two 
Englishmen, who said quietly, ' You are our 
prisoner ' — and I was " ; so said a German prisoner 
after an attack on the right : and the same thing 
happened here in front of my eyes. Virtually 
the first thing that several score really knew was 
that they were almost automatically holding up 
their hands — and this though the attack could 
not have been a surprise, though the position was 
as strong as a walled fortress, though a 200 and 300 
yards space of pock-marked country, open to direct 
and enfilade fire, had to be crossed by the attack. 



126 WITH THE BRITISH ON THE SOMME 

" I have seen or heard nothing which gives me 
such firm confidence in the British Army," said a 
foreign observer of wide experience who saw the 
fight from my vantage-point. But he too, while he 
watched, was quite absorbed in the human details. 

From the parapet of an alley or avenue leading 
to the maze a single German officer stood erect, 
motionless, studying without apparent action the 
defeat in front. He descended into his alley 
unhurt. Much nearer an English officer appeared, 
suddenly conspicuous, with his right arm extended, 
placidly directing his men round a little group of 
hummocks. A few minutes before three Germans 
skedaddled away to the left across the open. They 
were, for me, the first clear, certain, comfortable 
evidence of easy victory. 

Some incidents were almost comic. One English 
soldier detached himself from a group to chivvy a 
single German who incontinently fell in a heap 
before him. We supposed him dead ; but not at 
all. He presently trotted away in the opposite 
direction as prisoner. 

It is the single figure that rivets your eyes, how- 
ever big the event. In the first charge one of our 
men stopped, turned round, tottered homewards 
perhaps for twenty yards, stopped again, turned 
again, and charged again. He had " pulled himself 
together," as we say. What wound or shock of 
shell had checked him no one can tell. 

Yet earlier two men from a group on the left 
fell — one on our side, one on the other — and im- 
mediately after the whole group vanished. Men 
thought with a shiver of all the tales of wholesale 



OVER THE PARAPET 127 

destruction by machine-guns ; but the glass revealed 
that they were merely taking cover for a minute. 
They were soon resurgent and in a trice well on 
their way up the hill towards Thiepval. 

For myself, I could not take my glass off a group 
of five of our men on the left close to the Leipzig 
Redoubt. One was a signaller, and I happened 
to know what his signals meant. Others in front 
of him looked as if they belonged to a geological 
picnic. One of them seemed to potter about the 
humps of earth and chalk as if studying the cal- 
careous strata. One, I fancy, was a sniper. He 
certainly used his rifle later ; but I could find no 
explanation of the leisured curiosity of the other 
three. It is a human weakness to think of petty 
and odd comparisons in the midst of the greatest 
events and highest excitement. The signaller 
recalled the flag-carrier on the wing of a line of 
beaters in a partridge drive, and watching his 
calm progress in the midst of the hurricane of fire 
I found myself recalling that Midland beater made 
famous in Punch who said to his neighbour, " How 
that gentleman do keep pouring the shot into my 
gaiters, to be sure ! " 

The crowning moment of the day, for me at any 
rate, was the sudden appearance of thirty to forty 
Germans trotting back under guard across the 
open. They were obviously in so much more of a 
hurry than anyone who was fighting, always ex- 
cepting the first Germans to bolt. And they had 
reason. Another group of them ran straight into a 
German " crump," exploding with so much smoke 
and dust that everything round it disappeared. 



128 WITH THE BRITISH ON THE SOMME 

Whether many or any were killed or wounded or 
buried I have no idea. An inexplicable nervous- 
ness possessed another group. They would stop, 
half turn, hold their hands up again, and then trot 
on. I suppose they were dazed. 

Such incidents as these and many others vibrate 
in the memory, stand clear in the mind's eye when 
the bigger things, the exact issue, the battle from 
the historical aspect, is dull and blurred, a thing 
best described by some one who was not there. 

I had spent perhaps an hour in looking at the 
battle-field, the multiple German trenches, or 
rather parapets, mounting in tiers up the hill. 
Their distinctness and size contrasted abruptly 
with our tidier line. On the east of the scene, 
mapped out for the coming battle, a straight valley 
rises by even gradations till it vanishes into its 
climax at Mouquet Farm. It was like a shooting 
gallery. German machine-guns, I knew, pointed 
down it. For defence the place was ideal, for 
the attack deadly ; and yet the right wing of our 
advance was preparing to cross it, while the left was 
delivering the frontal attack on the old German 
line. Though the right was already across this, 
they had perhaps the tougher job of the two. 

Waiting was interminable. The hands of the 
watch seemed to refuse to move. All the waiting 
troops had to see was just the slow, sulky pounding 
of German lines by our 0/2 howitzers. I could hear 
their shells but could not see the guns themselves. 
Occasionally a field battery snapped out in staccato 
anger one, two, three, four cracks, and the shells 
sang like angry bees. Very rarely a German 



OVER THE PARAPET 129 

' crump ,]l exploded somewhere in the neighbour- 
hood. That was all. 

I had grown tired of looking and listening and 
expecting when the heavens opened. It was as 
if some one, as in the legend, had unbarred the 
cave of the thunder and the winds. You could 
not, of course, distinguish one gun, one battery 
from another ; but there was just a single standard 
of comparison or contrast to keep one sane. Two 
sorts of noise conflicted. Which was louder : the 
honk and whinny of the shell, splitting the air, 
or the joint explosions from the gun and from the 
shell ? The nature of the effect was that the 
thinner, nearer, shrewder noise of the split atmo- 
sphere seemed to be laid on the top of the general 
thud. One coped the other. 

The shrapnel and the high explosive, bursting 
over the German trenches, gave a similar impression 
in the domain of sight. The wicked lightning of 
the shrapnel, bursting extremely low, topped the 
heavy smoke and earthy columns from the heavy 
shells. For a few seconds I could distinguish 
separate hits : a shrapnel that raked an alley, a 
heavy shell that struck a parapet ; but such dis- 
tinctions were soon wiped out. The valley, " the 
shooting gallery," running towards Mouquet, even 
the line of scarred trees that stand for Thiepval, 
were lost in smoke ; and in front a mass of fumes 
and dust moved like a great cumulus cloud before 
the western wind, and as it moved it was ever 
renewed at the base. 

The hither side, or No Man's Land, was quite 
clear ; and with what seemed an ecstasy of splendid 
9 



180 WITH THE BRITISH ON THE SOMME 

suicide our men left the shelter of their trench 
and charged straight for the furnace. By what 
sleight of hand the furnace withdrew before them, 
like a rainbow you chase, is impossible to say. 
Some one certainly played the magician that day. 
The military fact that stands out was the level 
accuracy and slick timing of an artillery fire of 
incomparable volume and intensity. It left the 
Germans dead and blind and dazed. For a while 
the gabble of machine-guns broke through the 
thunder of guns and shells ; but they were soon 
stilled. 

I do not think that I saw any of our men killed 
by gunfire, though some were visible coming back 
wounded from the trenches ; and twice a German 
shell quite hid a group of men as it burst on the 
nearer side. A mere spectator does not, of course, 
see the more terrible side. A man falls, and that 
is all ; and the fall itself is not very obvious, but 
our losses were slight — to use the statistical word 
— especially slight in reaching and crossing this 
powerful line in front of me. 

I fixed my glass on one small group on the left 
and saw them reach the front trench and cross it 
without losing a man. They went straight on 
without pause, and were still undiminished when 
I lost them behind some heaps and turned to a 
wider view. How I should like to know their 
individuality, especially of that left-hand signaller ! 

It is possible to watch a battle, even to fight 
in it, and afterwards know very little indeed of 
what happened. It was so on ist July. Half 
the first impressions by corps and army observers 



OVER THE PARAPET 181 

were wrong. There was a mist and our men went 
too fast. But this small battle was as I saw it. 
The casualties over all the left part of the attack 
in front of me were exactly twenty-three. They 
were only seventy on the right, where " the shooting 
gallery " was crossed. If I had not seen it I should 
not have believed the possibility. 

We took a fortress. We secured over two 
hundred prisoners. We killed an unknown number 
of men : fifty German bodies were counted, apart 
from those buried by shells and in dugouts. The 
fire on the attacked trenches was very deadly, 
and one massed counter-attack was scattered. 

We took trenches over a front of nearly iooo 
yards to a depth of 300 to 400 yards. All this 
was done at the rush against every handicap in 
the nature of the ground, with a loss of under one 
hundred during the attack. All we had to help 
us in natural conditions was sun and wind, which 
made observation almost perfect. 

Within an hour or two I had some glimpse of 
the battle through the enemy's eyes. Among the 
prisoners^was one soldier who had just come from 
Verdun. " That," he said, " was bad, but nothing 
to the Somme ! " Very much the same opinion, 
given in reference to artillery fire, came from other 
Germans taken a day or two earlier, and the truth 
is that every battle is worse than its forerunner. 
The world accelerates its gallop to destruction. A 
few days later I saw this attack repeated with equal 
success. It was a day of heavy fighting elsewhere ; 
but nowhere did the ground offer such advantages 
for observation. The bare and regular acclivities 



182 WITH THE BRITISH ON THE SOMME 

leading to the skeleton trees and dead houses of 
Thiepval allowed one to watch every movement 
of troops, every yard of trench, and the pitch of 
individual shells. 

Once again our good, steady English troops 
went over the parapet and marched their way 
methodically into one German trench after another, 
bombing and taking prisoners as they went. Once 
again within a few minutes of the attack little 
frightened groups of the enemy ran the gauntlet 
of their own barrage and dashed for safety to their 
enemy's lines. But strangely similar though the 
issues were in these two successive attacks, both 
northwards by " the Leipzig salient " toward 
Thiepval, they differed by the poles for the soldier 
who " jumped the lid," and even to the observer. 
For a battle-field is not like a map, though something 
may be inferred from the map. 

The contour of the hill is a regular rise. On 
the Monday we climbed ; on Thursday we nearly 
reached the 460-feet level which marks the top of 
the ridge. For a certain number of the troops the up- 
hill battle (in the literal sense) was over when their 
charge finished. They were on ground virtually 
as high as Thiepval itself. 

By a lucky accident I reached my vantage-point 
just at the moment when our artillery opened. 
The suddenness was that of a near clap of thunder 
succeeding occasional low and distant growls, but 
the bombardment had not — so it seemed to me — 
quite the sharp definition, the portcullis effect. 
Its sphere seemed wider and the individual shell 
more notable. Some separate explosions would 



OVER THE PARAPET 133 

have stood out, distinct and terrible, in any bom- 
bardment, even in a Vesuvian eruption. 

I had just fixed my glass on a certain German 
strong point when a great shell hit it full. A black 
and sepia rush of foul smoke shot up into the shape 
of a sweep's brush, outtopping all other explosions 
by many yards. Then from the edges of this 
toadstool of smoke solid things began to drop ; 
black oblongs and rhomboids and shapeless lumps. 
What they were, mortal or material, I do not know, 
nor what created the immensity of this explosion. 
Later in the day I saw nearer at hand a white and 
yellow cloud rise to double this height without 
ever losing its uncanny shape, which suggested an 
anatomical picture of the human brain. But that 
was almost beautiful beside this black, repulsive 
phenomenon. Huge though it was, for the 
moment dominating the hill-side, it was after all 
not twice as big as scores of other explosions whose 
effect was solely produced by their own explosive. 

Thiepval itself was like a forest fire, in which 
the fumes and smoke had taken the colours of the 
autumnal leaves — " yellow and black and pale and 
hectic red." The colours fit the scheme exactly ; 
the line needs no alteration. And through and 
past the smother came the German shells, creating 
a second though lesser fire. One little patch of 
earth just opposite me was suddenly churned up 
by two salvos of 5 # 9 or some such weight of gun. 
The eight shells exploded within a minute or two 
of one another, a very few minutes after our guns 
had opened against the Thiepval orchard trees. 
The salvos were useless : but had the shells fallen 



134 WITH THE BRITISH ON THE SOMME 

in the midst of our advancing infantry, they would 
have made no manner of difference to the steadiness 
of the advance. 

Of all thatlhave ever seen, the most unforgettable, 
the most impressive, a thing that must make an 
Englishman always proud to be English and most 
grateful to the Englishmen of to-day, is the sight 
of our soldiers marching forward through such 
shell fire without deviating a foot, without showing 
sign or symptom that the shell — exploding, as it 
seems, at their elbows — had any danger or terror 
in it. Yet such a shell can pitch a bar of railway 
metal ioo yards and shoot the solid base of its own 
case nearly half a mile, and the havoc of the de- 
stroyed ground is clearly visible at 1500 yards. 
Nevertheless, English troops walk through such 
little obstacles with less disturbance of mind or 
manner than a wasp creates at a breakfast table. 

I had watched Gloucestershire troops so march 
in solid majesty up the lower slopes of this shattered 
hill during the first attack. This day the men who 
did it came from neighbour counties : from Wor- 
cestershire, which earned fame in the attack on 
Contalmaison, and from Wiltshire, whose men had 
fought most stolidly round Pozieres, as at every 
spot where they have been pitched. They said of 
themselves that the English have greater reputation 
in defence than in attack. " The old county troops 
always stick it out and always will " — that is what 
every one says of them, and what they feel of 
themselves. 

The truth of the maxim was to be proved to the 
hilt the very night after the attack. The noise and 



OVER THE PARAPET 135 

tumult of the German fire before me on the hill-side 
was more than doubled the following evening ; 
and " contracted into a span " on our newly won 
trenches. On its heels followed picked troops of 
the Prussian Guard, those would-be masters of the 
world. But their dominant name made as little 
difference as had the brutal explosive to the stead- 
fastness of our English troops. They had been 
hammered. They were battle tired. They had 
charged and fought and dug. They were hammered 
again. But when the Prussian Guard, brought up 
fresh for the purpose, came to the charge, these 
immovable troops were as ready for the men as 
the shells. Seldom was the motto better kept : 
" What we have, we hold." The truth was recorded 
in set terms by the Germans themselves, perhaps 
in reference to these attacks, through the report 
of Von Armin. " The English," he wrote, " show 
surprising skill in holding and organizing a con- 
quered position." 

The spectacle of the infantry was so absorbing 
that all other parts of the battle were like to be 
forgotten. But to see a modern battle one must 
look up as well as down. It is easy to forget the air. 
I remember in watching the second British attack 
up the hill towards Thiepval, and among a pattern 
of trenches known as the Wonder Work, I saw, 
but nearly missed, a spectacular detail full both 
of beauty and meaning. Lifting my eyes a moment 
from the battle among the ditches, I caught sight 
of one of our aeroplanes. It served as pointer to 
another and then another until the sky seemed 
full of them, all quite inaudible through the noise 



136 WITH THE BRITISH ON THE SOMME 

of the guns. Some were high, some comparatively 
low. No German gun could shoot without drawing 
their eagle eye to it, and no German plane come 
near to return the compliment, to spy upon our 
fire. Thanks to them, our artillery hit over a score 
of enemy emplacements that very day.- 

What happened in the air above me was this. 
These circling eagles of ours saw one German plane, 
greatly daring, though skied inconceivably high, 
making towards our line. In a moment their 
dilettante circling ceased, and the flock steered a 
straight course for the enemy. " Up and at 'em " 
is at least as true of the British airman as of the 
British soldier. " Down and away " was the only 
possible answer of the German ; and he took his 
only alternative with admirable celerity. 

Our airmen always thus gather to a battle. 
They have strange experiences. Again and again 
when the storm breaks they see the thunderbolt. 
Our great howitzer shells at the top of their flight 
are perfectly visible, and even give the impression 
of not travelling at any inordinate speed. As the 
war goes on many airmen find that they see a score 
of things previously invisible. They know what 
to look for ; and perhaps they become attuned to 
what they work in, gaining a technical as well as a 
spacious vision. How much their universal presence, 
their eyes as well as their missiles, have affected 
the enemy's emotions we know from many letters 
and other evidence. 

So even in a close and local attack on trenches 
the airmen play their part and make beneficent 
journeys over the infantry. But one hardly heeds 



OVER THE PARAPET 137 

them. It is difficult to attend to any part of 
the field except where the infantry are engaged, 
especially in a fight of this nature. One forgets 
the artillery itself if a single righting soldier is 
visible. 

Even the spectacle of war which I saw by Thiepval, 
where our men climbed tier by tier over the German 
trenches before my eyes, was surpassed by a fighting 
picture visible a few days later over the spur of 
Falfemont Farm and the valley of Wedge Wood on 
our right wing. 

The waterspouts of rain which elsewhere quenched 
all the fires of war here stirred it into activity. 
In a small field and in a succession of skirmishes 
were concentrated all the pomp and circumstance 
of antique warfare, soiled and muddled as always 
by dirt, dust, and confusion. 

From a point behind Guillemont you could see 
French troops sweeping forward in triumphant 
lines on the right, while our men were clearing 
the great dugouts of Guillemont, sending back 
their hundreds of prisoners and bombing here and 
there among trenches. While news was just be- 
ginning to spread of a French forward sweep away 
over the Somme, and our men were firm in their 
defences beyond Guillemont — the centre of the 
view, the event on which eyes centred, was an 
enemy's charge to recover and keep the precious 
ridged slope close by the ravine where we and the 
French join hands. 

No episode in the war has so dwelt on the brain 
of those who witnessed it as a suicidal charge of the 



138 WITH THE BRITISH ON THE SOMME 

Prussian Guard near Ypres two years before. Two 
hundred men swung round a plantation into our 
view, in one close rank, arm locked in arm, and 
rifle slung over the shoulder, and holding their left 
arms across their eyes. All were shot down. They 
almost repeated the scene, though this was fighting, 
not suicide, against troops commanded by the 
same British general who saw the annihilation of 
that storming party at Ypres. Yet no two settings 
for a drama of war could have been less like. 

The stage in the Somme battle was an undulating 
and beautiful stretch of French country — its 
framework an artificial triangle. At the top was 
Leuze Wood, a close-knit grove, not then unleafed 
and dismantled by inveterate shelling. Southward 
from it runs a clear-cut ridge for a thousand yards, 
ending, for my purpose, in Falfemont Farm. Let 
the base of the triangle run westwards from this 
down a quick slope to Wedge Wood, which blocks 
the base of the valley. Guillemont lies distinct 
as a wall pattern on the left and Falfemont on the 
right. 

At the farm and the wood the attack had been 
held up on the previous day ; and when on the 
morrow we renewed the attack a battle of the 
older sort sprang into view. It was fought for 
the most part not in trenches but in the open. In 
the open, men conquered or died. The place was 
an oasis, a home of respite from the terrors of shell 
fire elsewhere universal. Neither side had freedom 
enough of knowledge or vision to be sure of its 
target. Germans came out with the bayonet to 
face our charging troops, and the righting was 



OVER THE PARAPET 139 

everywhere hand to hand. It is hardly necessary 
to say that the machine-guns rattled and gabbled 
almost continuously. 

One of our waves that marched in very open order 
up the slope to Falfemont met the fire from the 
strong points about the farm, and was covered — 
as in much of this fighting — by screens of our 
machine-gun fire. Apart from these clear and 
traceable lines of attack — now against the farm, 
now past the wood and up to the V of trenches 
beyond — odd and occasional groups of men moved 
in eccentric orbits. Three or four would scuttle 
away from the farm along the spur. A few 
others — were they prisoners ? — moved southwards, 
and were thought to be carrying a white flag. To 
and fro moved this restless patrol of battle on the 
ridge and the slope of the valley. It seemed inex- 
tricable, when, as if finally to straighten out the 
tangle and assert dominance, a new power entered. 

From the neighbourhood of Leuze Wood ap- 
peared in closed, perfect formation, arm touching 
arm, if not arm linked in arm, the leaders of a 
battalion of German trooos, a reserve of the Prussian 
Guard. Appearing and disappearing in the varying 
sinuosities of the ground and growths that cover it, 
they advanced steadily, scarcely, if at all, touched 
by shell fire, till they reached the range of our rifles 
and machine-guns. They faced the music. They 
met the blare, so it seemed, and quite perished under 
it. At least, they vanished. 

Other waves followed, and our men appeared 
to retreat a little way. Soon the fight fell back 
into confusion again. The serried phalanx had 



140 WITH THE BRITISH ON THE SOMME 

failed to bring Prussian order or dominance into 
the turbulence of the melee. What was the end ? 
We seemed to have won the wood and beyond it, 
and to have some footing at least in the farm. 
The righting had no visible end when the afternoon 
gloom of a stormy day took away the vision. 

The facts of the victory were known that night ; 
but they were not felt till two days later, when it 
was possible to visit the battle-field. Across the 
slope the Prussian dead lay in some score among 
the rank grass of the hill-side ; and nearer Guille- 
mont, just to the east of it, our photographers 
were taking pictures of a trench where forty dead 
lay heaped one on the other within as many yards. 
Yet this was a small skirmish of little account 
in a day of great fighting. 

A return along the corridors leading to the battle 
itself gives a more telling picture of what war is 
than the distant sight of actual infantry engagement. 
Wounded as they hobble back or are borne on 
stretchers, the groups of prisoners, the distant 
sight of fighting men, the blast of guns and 
burst of shells, the sight of a landscape turned to a 
volcano of a hundred craters, the knowledge of 
the numbers engaged — all this and other noisy evi- 
dence may give an observer a more poignant sense 
of the meaning of the war than even the sight of 
a charge, though, I suppose, it is only the soldier 
who crosses the parapet and endures the thunder- 
bolts directed against him who can know how great 
a thing he has done, and if he is a British soldier 
he will hardly confess his knowledge. 



CHAPTER VIII 
THE NEW FIGHTING 

I HAVE no ambition to follow geographically 
or in any successive detail the twenty weeks' 
campaign opened on the morning of the ist 
July. Every battalion, every brigade, every 
division has a war diary, much of it supplied by 
company commanders. One of the hundred 
labours that falls to the lot of the regimental officer 
is the compilation of this record immediately he 
comes out of the righting. Indeed, he must make 
notes even while fighting. The full skeleton of the 
story is in these ; the bones, if not the flesh and blood ; 
and the skeleton will one day be dressed in full 
historical canonicals. 

Though I heard the news daily, and daily saw, 
sometimes from near, sometimes from far, the 
course of the battle, and read many diaries and 
talked daily with the men who had come fresh from 
the battle, my ambition is rather to give some faint 
idea of the meaning and complexion of the war, so far 
as it came within my own experience, rather than any 
continuous narrative of its formal progress. When we 
are near events, all that is worth much is the harvest 

of our eyes and ears. Judgments follow later, 

141 



142 WITH THE BRITISH ON THE SOMME 

When we broke the German line at Mametz 
and Montauban, and pinched out Fricourt, we 
took a fortress and stormed ramparts that only 
months of labour could raise or rather sink. 
This was obvious long before one scrambled down 
stairs and passages into the chambers of the fort, 
and peered through the armoured lantern slits in 
the earth barriers. But my imagination at any rate 
had never leaped to the depth and extension of 
the change that the victory was to bring in its 
train. The heaping up of force and material 
behind our lines had been palpable enough for many 
weeks, but it had all been cloaked and subdued. 

Suddenly, as it seemed, the ground became 
yeasty with activity of all sorts. The valley and 
slopes spawned horses and mules. The country 
was like a circus. Whole valleys filled up with the 
deposit of war : horses, mules, limbers, lorries, 
tents, huts, wire cages. Ambulances, guns, and 
marching troops overflowed the edges of the roads. 
Guns lurched forward on the trail of the enemy, 
arriving mysteriously at impossible sites. Khaki 
figures in quantity wandered about, as if for pleasure 
or curiosity, all over the battle-field, as if shells were 
as unknown as they were undreaded. On 3rd July, 
as I entered Fricourt and turned sick at the sight 
of the dead bodies, a great part of the hill-side 
to my left was alive with men : engineers, pioneers, 
road-makers, reserve patrols, artillery prospectors, 
even here and there an unauthorized souvenir- 
hunter dotted the whole slope. It was quite a new 
thing to find soldiers in the open close to the enemy. 
For nearly two years no one had left the|trenches 



THE NEW FIGHTING 148 

except to cross dead ground. Some avenues were 
miles long, and it was thought fatal to leave their 
concealment. You were inevitably sniped, if not 
with rifles, with field artillery. For so many 
months every one, both soldier and observer, had 
sidled forward up these ditches that the return to 
the open life was as surprising as it was pleasant. 
It was difficult to grow used to the idea ; but the 
press and stir were as the breath of hope, and bred 
a high confidence in all the world. 

Nor was the sense of excitement visibly depressed 
at all by the broken wagons and dead horses and 
mules, and occasional eruptions of dust and dirt and 
smoke from the scattered shells of the enemy. 
The world seemed so wide that each atom was safe. 
Men felt for the nonce, as they looked to the airmen, 
so wide apart, that no one man was likely to be hit. 
For the master impression from the air is of an empty 
world. On the ground where you see a road or a 
camp in rank or in perspective, the more distant 
dots close up against the nearer ; a platoon or two, 
a horse or cart or two, obscure the gaps between 
them. From the air the intervals have thus full 
value. Even these massed camps, which gave the 
impression of a whole people on migration, — a race of 
nomads stopping their march for a day or two, — 
had a scattered look. Your impression was that a 
bomb dropped would miss the horses and the huts 
nine times out of ten. 

But even from high in the air there are relative 
emptinesses. All through this battle of the Somme 
the contrast between the German side of the line 
and ours was quite incredibly abrupt. Our army 



144 WITH THE BRITISH ON THE SOMME 

with all its appurtenances might be encamped on 
the edge of a desert with the trenches dividing 
"the desert from the sown." Behind the enemy's 
line is just emptiness : you see no horses, no lorries, 
no limbers, no moving troops. Even the air is 
emptier. In an unbroken line over our camps 
the great sausage balloons swing and sway, looking 
vastly, if deceptively, numerous. 

All this emptiness on the ground or above it was 
to the credit of the airmen. The German troops, 
the German ground, the German stores moved at 
night and only at night. Scarcely a lorry dared 
open itself to the eyes of the airmen, who would 
as lief as not glide down and use their machine-guns 
as if they were infantry. Doubtless the clever use 
made of railways — heavy and light railways, trench 
railways, munition railways — helped the enemy to 
empty his roads and withdraw his camps ; and his 
tricks of concealment, of camouflage are various 
and clever, though never so good as the French. 
But sheer fear of our aircraft was the chiefest cause 
of the utter inanity of the country within a mile or 
two of the front. You saw there literally nothing ; 
and by reason of the contrast returned to wonder 
yet more at the stir and freedom of open-air life 
behind the British army. 

The side that is least afraid will win — that was 
the first thought a trip in the air left with me. But 
this German fear of being seen was not integral to 
the warfare ; it was no more than the dominance 
of our airmen, acting as eyes to an artillery much 
superior in weight and volume. But on both sides 
all the time, thousands upon thousands of men, 



THE NEW FIGHTING 145 

with no immediate concern in the righting, are 
living under shell fire ; on our side in the open, 
on the German under flimsy coverings. The 
strangeness is that the battle-field has no boundaries, 
no definition ; and who shall say which part is more 
or less dangerous, where danger begins and ends ? 
I know a general of cavalry, who has flitted much 
from one part of the line to another, who maintains 
that the only safe place is No Man's Land. The jest 
has some meaning in it. When once you worm 
your way to the forward sap, you are like to be free 
from shell fire, and in the course of an advance are 
probably safe from the trench mortar. 

But No Man's Land is not easy to reach. You 
must pass through a strip two to three miles long, 
all of which is under shell fire, though most of it 
seems and> in the normal course, is as " healthy " 
as you would wish. Yet who knows ? One day, 
as I drove to this beckoning battle-field, I met the 
signs of German shells twelve miles behind our 
front line. " Whistling Percy," as the men call 
the smaller naval shells, had picked the spot out 
as target the day before. A mile or more nearer 
the front not a house was touched, never had 
been touched. The traffic was so thick that the 
traffic N.C.O.'s and an A.P.M. (from the Peerage) 
were playing as busy a part as the policemen at 
Charing Cross. After crawling, at the pace of the 
brigade marching in front, for another five miles 
or more, past fields trampled to sheer earth by 
horses, past tents and dugouts and dumps and 
old gun emplacements and heaps of used shell 
cases covering half an acre, and strings of artillery 

IO 



146 WITH THE BRITISH ON THE SOMME 

horses I reached a hill-top from which the smoke 
of bursting shells was visible, but at a distance 
too great for any distinctive noise. I had passed 
some of our own longer-ranged guns, which fired 
at rare intervals ; but the place hardly suggested 
immediate battle. Cars could still proceed a mile 
or two farther, if need be, and do no harm. As 
we sat in the car discussing whether to leave the 
car here and desert the roads and walk across 
country, a quick, angry squeak was heard almost 
simultaneously with a sharp explosion. It seemed 
a meaningless thing that had arrived by accident. 
Near though it was, it hardly suggested real war. 
A firework would have made more fuss. But 
men were running forward to the spot ; and a 
few minutes later four of them passed, carrying a 
soldier with one leg completely shattered. 

It was still difficult to believe the reality of this 
accident, for it made no difference to anything. 
No one changed his occupation, or amusement, 
except perhaps ourselves ; and we drove the car 
to another spot farther on and went on with the 
programme. We walked some two miles nearer 
the battle, sheering off from one road which 
the Germans patrolled with a succession of 5*9 
shells ; but no shell came again within half a mile 
or more of us. Occasionally and in places men 
have walked straight across the open into the 
front trench without any sense of running great 
risk. The next day a mouse could scarcely escape 
through one or other of the stretches along which 
they passed. 

At no point anywhere — or so it may be — is 



THE NEW FIGHTING 147 

there any division to tell you where in the battle- 
field you are. The guns are sprinkled here, there, 
and everywhere in no scheme, no order, some 
pointing one way, some another. Trenches are 
many, some half filled up, some like newly cut 
drains, but nothing exactly indicates which is old 
and disused and German, which meant as an alley. 
Both are deserted ; and on you tramp round and 
about the rugged shell holes or past the rubble of 
houses or through the fractured woods without any 
definite notion of the neighbourhood of the enemy 
or the degree of danger. This vagueness is often 
worse quite near the front, where trenches are a 
necessary refuge, at any rate by day. Not once 
or twice the infantry have prevented artillery 
observers walking straight into the net of the 
enemy's sniper if not the enemy's trench. Two 
observers about the time of this journey I write 
of found themselves long before they expected 
in the front trench, and were warned to go no 
farther, as the enemy's sharp-shooters were very 
active. One took no heed, and was killed almost 
instantly, not, as it happened, by a bullet, but by 
a field-gun shell. The other, after recovering the 
body, did his business and returned. He had run 
great risk and was now, he thought, safe, but 
decided to cling to the trench a little longer. Half 
a minute after his decision a 5-9 shell hit the trench 
full and buried him completely. The arrival of 
a platoon of infantry alone saved his life ; and 
they spent a full hour in the work of digging him 
out. Who shall say where safety or danger is 
found ? 



148 WITH THE BRITISH ON THE SOMME 

All is different in the common trench warfare. 
It may be more dangerous behind the head of the 
communication trench than in it ; but at least 
distances and divisions are well denned. At a 
certain spot you enter an alley, generally well 
revetted with V-shaped boards and wire and what- 
not, and walk for the rest of the way, it may be 
two miles, down and along the ditch, except where 
now and again it sinks into dead ground. In 
the new warfare—half stagnant, half mobile — 
there was never time to build the regular alley 
or communication trench. Sometimes the front 
line was itself far from being a continuous trench 
in the old sense. Either the captured line had 
been so knocked out of shape by our artillery as 
to lose all coherence, or we had fortified a new 
line by joining up shell holes as best we could. 
Some important places much exposed to shell fire, 
especially that scorched sky-line from Mouquet 
farm to Thiepval and the windmill along the 
Bapaume road, were entirely held by posts ; and 
no one less than a genius could tell quite exactly 
how the fringe of these posts ran. When the 
Canadians relieved the Australians in this district 
they altogether failed to find some of the men, 
who drifted back from scattered shell holes during 
the next two or three days. In this fighting, the 
separate soldier was thrown on his own resources. 
His use and his safety depended on his wits and 
courage all day and every day. 

The difficulty of relieving the posts and above 
all of removing men wounded in the posts or 
alleged trenches might be insuperable. The very 



THE NEW FIGHTING 149 

courage of the stretcher-bearers — often aided by 
the pioneers — itself increased the trouble, so many 
of the men fell in their self-sacrificing work. Stories 
there are of human affection in this fighting which 
take their place alongside any of the immortal 
friendships in fight — of Roland and Oliver, or 
of Jonathan and David ; but the names will 
never go down to history, for often one man did 
not know the other's name. An Australian who 
had done most things in many lands and brought 
his experience to this war, found himself in charge of 
one of the advanced posts, and lived a lifetime within 
three days. He wished to hold the place and 
yet never to fire, for fear of giving away too 
useful knowledge to the enemy. The strain was 
extreme, and the men must be relieved from it every 
eight hours or so. It was as dangerous to relieve 
by night as by day. One of the first men to 
come out kicked one of the German bombs that 
smothered the obliterated saps and shell holes, and 
was mortally wounded. The Australian captain 
of the post went out, bound him up as best he 
could, and gave him water in answer to his pitiful 
cries. " You haven't a chance with your water- 
bottle," said the Australian in recalling the incident. 
" Properly we are not allowed to give 'em drink 
of any sort, but what can you do when they're 
wailing for water, water, all about you ? " 

He himself was taking his turn at this pernicious 
hole (sharing in the glory of holding our farthest 
advance at the highest point), when a shower of 
bombs descended. The Germans had crept up on 
several sides, " or it might have been our own men 



150 WITH THE BRITISH ON THE SOMME 

from the next lot, you never can tell. Some of the 
bits looked very like a Mills." He was hit in some 
dozen places : in the legs, arms and bowel-walls. But 
being a man of great heart and rough life he could 
force his limbs to move, and he walked away to seek 
a dressing station. He moved with infinite pain 
perhaps half or a quarter of a mile an hour, but 
even at this pace lost his way ; and after six hours 
lay down in a little sap, spitting out from some 
trench or other, to sleep or die. Somehow, some- 
where, some one joined him : if not a god, a man of 
great heart and stature, and indeed beauty. " Come 
along, mate. I know the way," he said. But the 
Australian could not move and could not endure 
the pain of being moved. " You go," he said. " I'm 
done in, and maybe a stretcher-bearer 11 come along 
sometime." But Oliver refused, and what the 
Australian could not do for himself, he did for the 
friend. After half an hour or so, the miracle was 
wrought : the man got up and walked — more slowly, 
more painfully than before. It was now light, and 
every few yards the sap was blown in, so that the two 
must face the open. " You hurry over and I'll 
follow as best I can," said Roland ; but Oliver would 
have none of it. " We go together. If you've got 
to have it, I'll have it too." So arm in arm they crept 
over the mud barriers and heard the steel bullets 
of the snipers ring by them. After many hours, they 
hit a trench full of wounded. The stretcher-bearers 
had suffered, had started work rather late, so intense 
was the German barrage, and the work was slow to 
the point of madness. The wounded could not be 
carried for the other wounded who lay on the floor 



THE NEW FIGHTING 151 

of the ditch. The only way was to lift these men 
out into the open, doubly exposed to further wounds, 
that their companions could be carried back. So 
this pair of wanderers, too brave to add to the 
burden of the day, left the trench for the open, and 
waded on arid on for another two or three hours, one 
of them longing to lie down and die, but aware that 
if he stopped he would never get up again. He had 
long ago quite given up the attempt to make his 
companion leave him. At last the journey that had 
lasted a great part of the night and day was over. 
An orderly at an advanced dressing station saw them 
and gathered them into the hospitality of a wide 
dugout. The two men never met again, are still 
ignorant each of the other's name or battalion, 

but — greater love has no man than this The 

Australian's life was saved by an immediate opera- 
tion, the first of a long series. I saw him months 
afterwards, at home, when most of the bits of bombs 
were removed and his colour was restored, and told 
one of the nurses a part of his story. " I don't know 
what we should do without him," she answered. 
" He cuts up the dinner of every one who can't 
manage, and is kind as a woman." The reason in 
part is that this rough warrior, whose face is knocked 
out of shape by fights in far corners of the world 
and whose skin is roughened by exposure in tramp 
steamers in all weathers — has a love, " passing the 
love of woman," for the man or god who journeyed 
with him across the putrid craters of that nightmare 
highland in France. 

The new fighting called out every quality in 
the soldier and the officer. It was a joint war 



152 WITH THE BRITISH ON THE SOMME 

of movement and of siege, and each fortress 
was of a different sort : a wood, a village, 
an earth-defence, a sunken road. All the while 
artillery was moving, and behind the first troops 
lines of movement built and strengthened and 
cleared. Each great leap forward was prepared by 
continuous fights for position, by digging saps, by 
isolated attacks, by patrol work and continuous 
study of the enemy's lines, especially from the air. 
Photography from the air, the piecing of the maps, 
the reading of the maps became a new subject 
calling for specialists at headquarters. Every one 
was learning new things about war every day, soldiers 
and corps-commanders alike, for nine out of ten of , 
the attributes of warfare were new. The schools had 
not taught them and no man had experienced them. 
Aircraft and the concentration of heavy artillery had 
exploded established theories, and introduced not 
only new problems but new diseases, new demands 
on the human machine. 



CHAPTER IX 
THE SIX WOODS 

ON 3rd July I crept with many fears into the 
edge of Fricourt Wood, past the dressing- 
station and into the trees. It had not greatly 
suffered. The place was "pinched out/' and for 
some reason no superlative shelling of the place 
had been decreed by either side. Twenty thousand 
shells and more may have burst there, perhaps a 
hundred thousand ; but into Delville on the last 
day of a six weeks' bombardment we emptied at 
least a hundred and twenty thousand ; and they 
were concentrated only on one section. The bom- 
bardment was the heaviest till then attempted. 
Fricourt was, in the soldier's phrase, a health resort, 
a phrase meaning that life there was endurable. 
Ypres during the Somme battle was a " health 
resort." You were not quite sure to be shelled 
in the open, the approaches were open the greater 
part of the day, and only now and then was any 
section of trench knocked into hummocks. In 
that sense Fricourt was a health resort for a few 
days after the battle. Bernaf ay Wood, to the east 
of Montauban, was another health resort, just for a 

while. Only alleys, no fire trenches ran through it. 

153 



154 WITH THE BRITISH ON THE SOMME 

We captured it in twenty minutes with not as many 
as fifty casualties. But Bernaf ay, taken much at the 
same time as Fricourt, became a day later a roost- 
ing-place for innumerable shells ; and many men 
died there. At least as often as not it is more 
costly to hold than to take. 

But we had not yet tasted the full terror of the 
woods ; nor had the Germans yet learned the full 
art of their defence. They had abandoned Fricourt 
and Bernaf ay at too great a speed ; and had left 
no feeding pipe for the reinforcement of the garrison. 
Their revenge at Bernafay was to sentinel our 
approaches with a quite ceaseless chasse of heavy 
shells. Almost every day for a while I went within 
sight and hearing of this wood ; and not once was 
there intermission of the bark of 5-9 shells and the 
black columns rising with damnable iteration from 
the hither edge of the wood. And then as ever 
afterwards throughout the battle they fired rather 
more at night than by day. Woods are the delight 
of attacking and despair of the defending artillery. 
Every contact shell that hits a tree is likely to 
explode. It follows that a shell becomes dangerous 
several hundred yards before it reaches its target. 

Before the 15th Sept ember, when the last of the 
woods on our front was captured, and London 
troops put the final flourish on our knowledge in 
High Wood, we were to know all there was to be 
known about wood fighting. 

When we forced a way into High Wood and 
pressed over the ridge down the slope facing the 
enemy our own gunners were helpless. The enemy 
facing us rested in a pool of serenity where no shells 



THE SIX WOODS 155 

broke — for this reason. Any contact shell directed 
on their lines was more likely than not to strike a 
tree in its course over British trenches and explode 
its fragments suicidally. The Germans were as 
safe as a man sheltering under the arch of a water- 
fall ; and in this case, owing to the fall of the ground, 
the cascade fell many hundred yards beyond them. 
But for hostile artillery a wood is a perfect target, 
that no one can miss, though it is a little difficult 
to detect the exact location of emplacements and 
trenches. For the men the cover adds to the 
terror. Shells strike and explode above ground 
on the trunks. Every burst is endowed with a 
longer life of noise and higher intensity. Frag- 
ments fly at all tangents and, above all, the discovery 
and recovery of wounded men is a nightmare. To 
hear them calling at night through the wizardry of 
the tangled trees and roots fills the strongest with a 
shivering pity, like no other sensation in war. 

Retreat in a wood surpasses all endurance, for it 
adds horror to the bitterest sensation a man knows : 
the compulsion to leave his wounded behind. Men 
are doubly brave in victory, largely because they 
know if they fall that they will be found and fetched, 
salved or saved, by their own people. It may not 
be so with all peoples — with the Latins, who have a 
gift of stronger intellectual imagination and higher 
mental ecstasy, but with English county troops 
the sense of staying alive or dead with their own 
people buttresses their courage more than any other 
single cause ; and nothing so depresses, so saddens 
them as the thought that they have left their 
friends wounded within the pale of the enemy or, 



156 WITH THE BRITISH ON THE SOMME 

yet worse, in No Man's Land. The flourish set on 
the brutality of war is the abandonment of wounded 
men to die slowly of cold, of hunger, of decay. Men 
have been brought into hospital after eight days of 
exposure when they have eaten and drunken only 
such scraps and drops as they could filch after 
dolorous crawling in the mire from the dead who 
were their companions. 

And every wood across our path, except the 
first two, we nearly won and largely lost, not once, 
but many times, before trenches were fortified on 
the farther side, and the whole made good. Each 
of these woods is holy ground : Trones, Mametz, 
Delville, and the Bois des Foureaux or High Wood ; 
the cradle of high fame, as well as the grave of 
many noble lives. Troops from every part of 
Britain fought these forest fights. \ 

It has come about that each wood is associated 
with a particular regiment ; and though perhaps a 
score of others fought as hard, the fame has always 
been won by signal service and a bloody fight. 

The West Kents claim Trdnes by virtue of their 
forty-eight hours' siege, but in Trones the worst of the 
fighting was the endurance of the shells iby those 
who occupied it. One morning a young Fusilier 
officer was sitting there with the regimental doctor, 
also a young man ; and while the heavy shells 
burrowed and barked and, gobbled among the tree 
roots all round them, they discussed the war, 
which both hated. The doctor was, and happily 
is, one of the best" of the younger bacteriologists, 
and the officer a great lover of field natural history. 
There the two crouched in the dark — for the shell 



THE SIX WOODS 157 

explosions perpetually blew out the candle — feeling 
themselves negative, if not useless, doing the work 
of a clod of earth, and likely at any moment to be 
pulverized by the ploughshare. 

' It seems a pity" said the doctor at last, " that 
you should like all you like, and I should know all I 
know, and we two be here" 

So at all sorts of times and places does the futility 
of war breed revolt in the finer spirits ; but always 
everywhere it is the finer spirit that holds out best, 
and best bears the brutality of shelling. That has 
been proved in this war times without number. 

Trones Wood introduced to us the grimness of 
wood fighting. The Germans bordered it on our 
side with heavy shells, and kept all the while within 
their grip a few trenches by which they could filter 
into the fastnesses at will. As soon as our infantry 
came within attacking distance of these reinforced 
garrisons, our artillery was forced to withdraw its 
defence, and the enemy was left with the upper 
hand. The pear shape of the wood forced attacking 
troops to move from different directions, and, as 
experience in Delville afterwards proved (indeed, 
as we had already proved on the way from the 
Marne to the Aisne two years before), even regular 
soldiers could scarcely avoid the risk of firing at 
each other. Before my own eyes, as a foreboding 
picture of wood fighting, I keep the memory of a 
single English soldier who fell to English bullets 
in a little wood above the Marne, where his body 
was found as I reached the field nearly three weeks 
later. 

Trdnes Wood remained an unspeakable cemetery 



158 WITH THE BRITISH ON THE SOMME 

for many weeks, for there, backwards and forwards, 
our troops and the Germans ebbed and flowed, each 
wave leaving behind it dead and wounded tangled 
in the undergrowth, like the bodies of seagulls 
mixed with other flotsam in the sea-wrack on a 
leeward shore. 

Our own wounded and German wounded each 
in turn underwent a heavy shelling from their own 
guns. In some cases — I know one incredible ex- 
perience — the wounded of the two sides fought 
duels with one another while they lay or crouched 
in the undergrowth or in craters, all the while 
increased promiscuously by either artillery. The 
intensity of our fire on one section of this cemetery 
was visible from miles away before the final attack, 
and the pillars of smoke served for a suitable back- 
ground to the flashes and clouds of the enemy's 
shrapnel barraging on the near side. 

Mametz Wood, taken almost at the same time 
was in some ways worse, because bigger ; and 

" Enter these enchanted woods, 
Ye who dare." 

The Germans had stretched wires like poacher's 
snares. They had cut paths and avenues for hidden 
machine-guns to rake. They had built caves of 
Cacus and bristling forts — all this in a forest of 
exceptional thickness through which you would 
hardly care to push merely for the spidery and 
weevil fustiness of it. 

It was repulsive then and afterwards. As I 
pushed through it some days after its capture the 
flies had settled like a thick, sticky sediment at the 



THE SIX WOODS 159 

bottom of the shell holes. Once when I jumped 
into one on the sound of a singing shell, they lifted 
some few inches, like a coverlet raised by a puff of 
wind, and then settled back in their original posi- 
tion. Among the horrors of the wood was the 
wreck of one of our own aeroplanes. 

The wood held us up for many days after the 
first rush through the nearer half ; and a second 
brilliant attack from the eastern side, which I 
watched on a day of such singular clearness that I 
could see the shadows of the juniper's bushes at a 
distance sufficient to reduce the men to the size of 
beetles. The delay caused much heart-searching, 
for we wished to hurry on to the second great attack 
finally delivered on 14th July and nothing could 
be done till Mametz was ours. It fell at last to 
Welsh troops, including the London Welsh. The 
men were perhaps peculiarly sensitive to the 
diabolism of the place. One platoon of these gallant 
Welshmen were waiting for the moment of attack 
with tingling nerves, when one of their officers fired 
a Verey-light cartridge from his pistol. At the top 
of its flight it lit the jagged trunks looking like 
giant skeletons, and as it fell, as it almost touched 
the undergrowth, it lit not a skeleton but a live 
giant. The face was shown up, clear and ghostly, 
and the body seemed to partake of the enormity of 
the trees. The young officer, himself constantly 
afraid of being afraid as are many brave men, had 
some ado to stop a real panic. For the first and 
only time his men began to run away, but the crisis 
was momentary. The light died down, and from 
the ambush of a tree a petrified voice cried out, 



160 WITH THE BRITISH ON THE SOMME 

" Mercy, Kamerad^! " The figure of fear was a 
German deserter. 

Within a wood all the common sounds and 
symptoms of war gain terror. The sense of direction 
of sound is blurred or distorted. When these gallant 
Welshmen were delivering their final triumphant 
attack, a single German machine-gun opened fire in the 
extreme corner of the wood. Its deadly tap seemed 
placeless, everywhere and yet nowhere, echoing off 
trunks and thrown back by blocks of trees. This 
single gun, which was firing not into the wood but 
across the open, almost arrested the charge. There 
was one moment of wavering and then the terror 
was converted into an ecstasy of rage. The Welsh- 
men bitted their imagination and drove straight 
through the northern space of the wood, across the 
trench at the edge and so out into the open. 

Thus the wood was won ; but it was not cleared. 
Two days later a German officer was discovered 
in a dugout with stores of food, with maps and 
telephone apparatus ; and there is some evidence 
that he amused himself with occasional sniping. 
The clearance work of any battle-field is both labori- 
ous and repulsive. An attack to-day means so 
much more than an attack. First, behind an 
attacking force in this war, come " the cleaners," as 
the French call them, who follow into trenches and 
dugouts and rake out or burn out or bomb out 
or smoke out the hiders and the ambuscaders lying 
in wait in holes and earths. After those who 
attend to the remnant of the living come the men 
whose work it is to look after the dead. But a 
wood surpasses a trench, and in this great rectangle 



THE SIX WOODS 161 

was no end to the strange discoveries, from the short- 
necked howitzer, which could not be pulled from its 
lair, to all the pitiful litter of retreat and defeat. 

Like other captured woods, it contained near 
the northern end a huge dump for food, letters, 
and ammunition. Prisoners surrendering here and 
in similar places speak with peculiar horror of the 
thirst they suffered. In Fricourt Wood men were 
saved from something near madness by the thunder 
rain that made pools in their trenches. Water is 
almost always the hardest of supplies to send 
through a barrage. Imagine the position of a 
German soldier shackled by foot and waist to his 
machine-gun when the water-carriers failed ; and 
other soldiers, as tied by discipline as he by chains, 
fare little better. A letter found on one of the 
prisoners said : " We are shut off from the rest of 
the world. Nothing comes to us. No | letters. 
The enemy keeps such a barrage on all the com- 
munications. It's terrible." 

For ourselves, when we had taken the place and 
held it firm, with trenches out beyond, the wood 
remained a place of ill-omen. Cavalrymen and 
yeomen who went up to help clear and dig trenches 
never turned their hand to less lovely employment. 
Every day and most of the day the enemy, who 
knew every inch of the wood, directed their guns 
on to crucial spots. Every day and nearly all day 
you could see the great black columns rising from 
the scarred trees, and hurling dark lumps, which 
one prayed were no more than wood and stone, high 
into air. Here General Williams was killed. 

After five months the whole of the wood is 



162 WITH THE BRITISH ON THE SOMME 

probably not explored. Even one of the guns was 
not discovered for several weeks. 



The Story of Delville Wood 

The occupation of Mametz and Tr6nes left us 
free to attack a wood that was to have and keep 
an ugly pre-eminence. In the course of that most 
brilliant attack of 14th July the two Bazentin 
woods and villages were captured and held " at 
the first instance " by our left and centre ; and the 
right wing began with equal dash and fortune. 
The village of Longueval, nursed under the western 
lea of the wood, was penetrated, and our South 
African troops — the most highly trained, the most 
athletic men that ever I saw — swept across the 
wood. Their charge, in spite of its triumph, was 
no more than the prelude to a six weeks' battle, 
much of it fought on the edges of the wood, which 
was completely ditched in. But no association of 
troops, no acts of regimental daring surpassed the 
combination of South African and Scottish troops 
in the early fighting. 

The South Africans rushed the wood, but the 
Germans held all the approaches, many of them 
quite protected from hostile shell fire. The remnants 
of the South Africans who coursed through and 
avoided death from snipers first received a mass of 
shells, and were then counter-attacked from all sides 
by an enemy " verminous with bombs." Our men 
were at first criticized for not consolidating as they 
went, for shirking the trench- digging after the 
charge. The criticism had no grounds. The men 



THE SIX WOODS 163 

never had a moment's leisure to use the spade, and 
they held every trench they reached till the last 
possible moment, perhaps too long. They had their 
crowded hour of glorious life, if men ever had ; 
and the story of the sweep through " Devil's " 
Wood, and the push through Longueval village, 
which itself dovetails into that wood, will be ever 
memorable as a feat of arms in itself and as a 
triumphant sequel to a twelve days' battle. Our 
artillery went through the wood like a mower with 
his scythe : first one broad swathe, then a second 
at a certain remove, and, to conclude, a third, 
embracing the last of the wood. 

The mowers moved like old-time harvesters and 
with as steady progression. But the cutting was 
rough, as of a crop that had been " laid " by wind 
and weather. The wood is thinner to sight than 
Mametz, but the floor of it all holes and humps. 
As the men moved on through the wood they met 
with little serious obstruction either from rifles, 
machine-guns, or bombs. 

Prisoners surrendered ; and our batteries had not 
fired more than a few rounds each when sixty Ger- 
mans dashed from the wood with hands up. Even 
the Brandenburgers, of whose prowess the German 
accounts were afterwards full, gave themselves up, 
as they did before on the Aisne. I was surprised 
to find that one member of the Prussian Guard 
who was among the prisoners was of very small 
build. The fact was pointed out to other prisoners 
from the 102nd Saxons, but they refused to grant 
the grandeur of the Prussian. " Lots of the Berlin 
men are small like that," they said, 



164 WITH THE BRITISH ON THE SOMME 

The enemy still left in the wood crouched in shell 
holes or very shallow trenches, making use of their 
time by devising methods of surrender — handker- 
chiefs tied to the end of entrenching tools to serve 
as a white flag, and, in one case, a Red Cross flag 
fixed to the end of a stretcher. Some men went 
on their knees, and " Kamerad, Kamerad " was 
heard from many men too frightened to show their 
heads or indicate the place of origin of their ventri- 
loquial cry. One very small Tommy took captive 
a group of nine Germans collected in the crater 
made by a 12-inch howitzer or some such monster. 

When the success of the attack was assured, and 
behind the third swathe our troops reached the 
edge of the wood, they saw the most cheering of 
all sights : groups of the enemy — in one case fourteen 
— running away up and over the hill, for the wood 
dips a little at its far edge. Some were in the 
open, some in communication trenches which we 
could enfilade with eye and rifle, some mere busts 
of men flying down trenches not more than three 
feet deep. 

Doubtless the total of flying enemy thus seen 
was not large, but in a close war, a war of woods 
and trenches, the sight of enemy in open retreat 
is not often vouchsafed to infantry. They were, 
however, enough to keep the rifles busy. One 
sniper himself accounted for ten outside the wood. 

The troops on the left advanced more slowly. 
On the village side the dugouts were many and 
deep. The orchard redoubt was not yet robbed 
of its thorns, and the enemy had a line of in- 
filtration through the grove that juts out as a 



THE SIX WOODS 165 

protective eaves over the north of the village. One 
of these dugouts had three openings, but each was 
rilled up by our bursting shells, till one of our 
doctors scratched his way into it with a trench- 
ing tool, and that was later. Though the men in 
the wood were in advance of the men to right and 
left, and were a target for the enemy's artillery, 
they repelled during the afternoon two very furious 
and costly counter-attacks. Our own bombs and 
ammunition were passed forward with great speed, 
and the enemy's machine-guns and bombs were to 
some extent used against him. It was thought by 
several of the men engaged that the Germans had 
prepared their trenches with the definite idea of 
their recapture; that they had arranged and in 
some measure concealed stores — bombs, ammuni- 
tion, and food — with the idea of being well and 
handily supplied when they retook the trench. 

The attacks continued with persistence after 
bouts of heavy bombardment. Twice the enemy 
gathered some half-mile away and, moving through 
both communication trenches and through the 
long grass, drove a very heavy ram of men at our 
trenches north of the wood just east of the middle. 
A few got through into a section about 25 yards 
long, but all who reached that point were killed — 
some bayoneted, some bombed ; and the losses 
were considerable both in the advance and the 
retreat. Some of our men told me that they found 
nothing so exhilarating as seeing the enemy gather- 
ing for a counter-attack. Like a good shot in the 
jungle — and the firing was good — they felt that the 
charging beast was dead the moment he faced the rifle. 



166 WITH THE BRITISH ON THE SOMME 

Such moments had the Canadians known at 
Ypres in June — where one man sniped seventeen 
Germans — and the Australians round the Windmill 
off the Bapaume road. But the position was 
too hot to hold. We could not reinforce as the 
Germans could, and the men were in a salient. 
At one time the Germans, with no little skill and 
daring, rushed forward a field-gun on the right of 
the South Africans, fired it at point-blank range, 
and escaped untouched. 

In every attack our thoughts are with the men 
in the front, face to face with the enemy ; but there 
is a back part, and this the Germans sometimes 
treat as most worth attention. All through this 
fighting — and not least in the throes of this attack — 
they pelted the corridors of the advance with gas 
shells and tear shells, with 9% with 8-inch, with 5*9 
howitzers, and with " universal " shrapnel from the 
4-2. We had seen nothing much heavier since the 
war began. 

The salient was no longer tenable. Men and 
munitions were too few, the lines of supply too 
difficult. So at last the remnant, after an in- 
commensurable fight, were driven back to the 
nearer edge of the wood. There they were received 
by the Scottish, who would have passed them 
through to reserve positions. But they did not 
take the offer. They preferred to stay and pad 
out so far as might be the rather sparsely held 
position. The enemy came through the wood in 
multitude and with determination. They out- 
flanked and overflowed the ends of our trenches, 
and all hopes of passive resistance were at an end. 



THE SIX WOODS 167 

At this juncture two Scottish colonels met in a 
dugout and took counsel. They decided to "face 
it out, even to the edge of doom." Their method 
may be called " the bluff to the death." At a 
signal, the better part of the garrison leapt from 
the trench, and with a shout, as gay with the right- 
ing spirit as ever the clans heard, charged the ad- 
vancing and marching enemy. The bluff did more 
than save the position. The Germans, altogether 
ignorant of the force upon them, and seeing only 
these ferocious and kilted soldiers rushing at their 
throats, fled incontinent. It was on the way back 
from this fight that an unwounded Highlander said 
to me, " They're no good when they see the whites 
of your eye." 

Different companies, even different platoons, of 
the wood-fighters had very different experiences. 
One group of South Africans who had already 
borne the brunt of the righting, asked not to be 
relieved, and continued to fight without pause for 
six days and nights, during which few of them 
slept at all except while standing. Even when 
falling asleep as they stood, they repelled more 
than one furious counter-attack, firing and bombing 
with dash and accuracy. From this group one 
company became separated. As may easily happen 
in night-fighting in woods, they were lost by their 
companions. But they were not forgotten ; nor 
should the tale of their struggle ever be for- 
gotten. 

How it all happened no one perhaps knew ; but 
a hundred or so found themselves at twilight in 
occupation of a part of a trench running north and 



168 WITH THE BRITISH ON THE SOMME 

south up the wood. They could hear the enemy 
approaching both from east and west, and as he 
came up he began to throw bombs at a venture, 
hoping to flush his quarry ; but, on instructions, 
not a man among the South Africans responded. 
Every man held his fire and waited till the figures 
of the enemy, now sure of their prey, were close and 
distinct. Then, attacking with rifle and bomb, 
they drove them back in panic and with heavy 
losses. 

At one time some of the men in this single un- 
supported trench were facing and fighting both 
ways, some east and some west. A remnant of this 
lost garrison finally made good its retreat, joined 
hands with other troops, and with them renewed 
the attack. 

Finally that happened at Delville which happened 
at Ginchy and Guillemont and at Trones Wood. 
The nagging and costly struggle gave place 
to quick and triumphant assault. A tidal wave 
succeeded to the ebb and flow. Early in the 
morning as loud a tumult as ever man had heard 
broke all along the conquered slopes, and in it 
joined great guns lurking in forgotten places five 
and six miles away, opposite another front. Two 
hundred guns were directed on one part of the wood, 
which is in all no more than 200 acres, and they 
fired at the full limit of speed. It was the finish. 
The enemy could endure no more, though even so 
a machine-gunner or two — members of a picked 
and devoted band — waited for the assault. One 
German hereabouts was found tied to a post, and 
headless. The dead ground on this last occasion 



THE SIX WOODS 169 

was a severer barrier than the enemy ; and once 
again the worst came when the place was taken 
and held, and the enemy's guns could fire without 
fear. 

For weeks afterwards you could read in the wood 
the proofs of Scottish and South African courage 
in a fight more grim than any glen or veld had ever 
known. 

The Story of High Wood 

Tied up on the crown of the ridge almost in the 
middle of our line rests the diamond of High Wood. 
On 14th July a squadron of the Dragoons and the 
Deccan Horse galloped into the space behind it 
and tasted for a moment the joy of open battle. 
They were a little group ; but their adventure 
brought into the history of war a new association 
of arms. As they galloped up the hill they were in 
danger of being exterminated by a machine-gunner 
ambushed in the corn. He was hidden from the 
ground, but not from the air. An airman had seen 
him and seen also the cavalry's danger. Never had 
cavalry a better ally. Hurrying to the rescue, 
the airman played the Pegasus indeed. He planed 
down to the rescue, fired his Lewis gun on the 
lurking gunner, and forced him to answer and declare 
himself. The cavalry once forewarned were fore- 
armed. They rode down the gunner, and though 
a number of horses were lost they took prisoners, 
and afterwards deserting their proper work were of 
use to the tired infantry in digging trenches. That 
night we entered High Wood. We did not possess 
it till the afternoon of 15th September, just two 



170 WITH THE BRITISH ON THE SOMME 

months later, a long enough period to bring our 
miners into action and finally to give time for the 
approach of the secret and sluggish Tanks. 

The wood might have been planted for defensive 
purposes. On the farther side it sloped rapidly 
down, offering a perfect artillery target from the 
north and altogether cutting off guns from the 
south, the northern end being protected by the 
southern trees which caught and exploded even 
the highest angled shells. All these two months 
the wood nursed machine-gunners who kept all 
flanking attacks at bay. 

Many troops made fame and suffered losses there- 
abouts, but the blazon of London regiments has the 
first claim to the decoration of the diamond Wood 
called High. One collection of London battalions 
had already fought to the death by Hebuterne on 
ist July. Here another group won their spurs. 
If you would imagine the battle and know the mettle 
of the men, you must imagine the battle-field. I 
have seen nothing on earth like it : in desolation, 
in horror, in pitifulness, in fantasy, in grimness. 
At the west corner is a gigantic mine-crater lined 
and fringed with fragments of kit, with helmets 
and masks, and half-tunics and bones. An end 
of cloth protruding from a grave told you the regi- 
ment of the victim. The holes in the shrapnel 
helmet announced the nature of another death, 
and the stain on the boot a third man's anguish. 
Every tree is lanced and beheaded and maimed, 
while balked and unseasonable leaves put out 
from the scars in the trunks. At the very door 
of the wood a Tank lies lop-sided, careening in a 



THE SIX WOODS 171 

shell hole with its nose thrust against the base of 
a tree growing from the far side. You walk through 
roots and pits and ditches that have supplanted 
the undergrowth ; but there are worse things in 
the wood than the sights. No acres are so rich in 
noble dead. The wood — a smoking target for 
any and every battery — had been a field of battle 
for exactly two months. The Germans, who held 
the larger part, could not attempt to bury all 
their dead. It was difficult even for us. The 
enemy always held it strongly. The energy he 
put into its defence was more than Teutonic. 
Machine-gun emplacements were strengthened and 
multiplied daily. Iron girders and concrete blocks 
were brought up. Wiring was attempted quite 
close to our trenches. All the while an intense 
artillery fire was kept chasseing up and down behind 
the wood and across it. 

This fire redoubled on the eve of the great attack 
delivered on the morning of 15th September. 

The Londoners, who bore the brunt ^of ft his, 
nevertheless went over the parapet as gaily as 
the rest. But they went of necessity more slowly. 
The wood was like nothing on earth when they 
faced it on that limpid dawn. Bits of men, bits 
of weapons, bits of trees lay tossed about and 
tangled together, some half buried, some suspended 
on stumps. The shells had gobbled in the under- 
growth and among the roots like pigs in a full 
trough, and the sides, along which trenches ran, 
were little better than the wood proper. 

The enemy, alert and in force at every turn, 
hidden in holes and trenches and behind -stumps 



172 WITH THE BRITISH ON THE SOMME 

of trees, was possessed of every machine and 
apparatus of defence. As the Londoners pushed 
forward, the gabble of machine-guns drowned even 
the artillery, but could never keep out of the ears 
the thin cries for stretcher-bearers nor smother 
the noisome reek. 

The Tanks moved into the wood like obscene 
monsters ; but even they could not face the music 
or thrid the maze. Only men could do that — 
men of breeding and intelligence, men bred and 
born in the soft work of the town. Office men, 
" daily-Dreaders," seekers after peace ; only war- 
like from love of country and hatred of oppression. 
Their task seemed impossible ; but they had great 
allies as well as their own great heart. 

The hope of a quick attack lay in surprise, but 
there was no surprise ; and it was impossible for 
our artillery to bombard the front trench held by 
the enemy. It was too near, and the trees would 
have caused premature explosions. When the 
hope was gone of steady progress in line with the 
troops on either side of the wood, the Londoners 
paused, retired a little way, and opened on the 
Germans with their own trench artillery, the 
mortars. These had been kept in abeyance in 
expectation that the Tanks and the suddenness 
of the dawn attack would do the work. But on 
this occasion the trench mortar was the surer 
method. The bombs, visible as birds topping the 
trees, went spinning up into the air, and the noise 
of the explosion drowned even the artillery. On 
the heels of the last salvos, so close to their own 
shells that some were wounded by the long ugly 



THE SIX WOODS 173 

splinters, the Londoners scrambled through the 
maze, and at last found the enemy broken. They 
won by a direct frontal charge ; but owed much 
to their friends on the flanks, especially the 
Northumberland Fusiliers, who surpassed that day 
even their own records. These Territorials had 
leapt into the open at dawn behind a very effective 
fire-curtain. Each trench they took and passed 
they found piled with dead. According to pro- 
gramme arranged with the artillery, they advanced 
in three bounds, stopping between each. The last 
took them to a shallow and ruined trench 900 
yards beyond their first halt. At all times, when 
they moved or when they stopped, they were 
raked by machine-gun fire from the edges of the 
wood and sniped from every hole and corner. 
They crouched and scraped what holes they could, 
but never found any real protection, never had a 
moment's respite. 

A friend of mine, engaged next the wood, lost 
more than half his unit. But they hung on hour 
after hour and found time to watch, with intense 
admiration, these valiant Londoners on their right 
struggling with the devilry in the wood. 

For five hours the Northumbrians endured and 
the Londoners fought, gaining only by inches ; 
but gaining nevertheless. At last the storm of 
trench mortars ended the desperation of the 
struggle. The weaker members of the enemy 
could endure no more ; and at 11.20 — just five 
hours after the first onslaught — three hundred ran 
out and surrendered incontinent. A few minutes 
later several hundred more broke into the open, 



174 WITH THE BRITISH ON THE SOMME 

like pheasants at the end of a drive ; and at last 
the Territorials outside had their revenge. 

The fugitives were close to them. They opened 
on them with mortars, with bombs, with rifles, 
with machine-guns. If any man got away he was 
not seen to escape. The dead were like sheaves 
on the autumn stubble. 

This reduction in the garrison of the wood 
made the work smoother for the Londoners. But 
the end was not yet. The toughest of the machine- 
guns and a considerable number of infantry still 
held their ground, and in such a place one good 
man with a machine-gun may be as strong as a 
company. The end was not yet, but it was near. 
At one o'clock a very well-placed machine-gun 
near the point of the wood — the last to keep up 
its gabble — was struck by a heavy shell, and our 
soldiers clearly saw bits of the men and the machine 
rocketing into the air. 

They knew now that they had won, and, fighting 
with vigour to the moment of the full finish, made 
their way through to the uttermost end. A 
harder, sterner, grimmer battle was never fought. 
No savage, no untutored men could have endured 
half what these Londoners or their friends suffered. 
Every child in London should feel himself higher 
in heart to be the fellow of such soldiers. 

And it was a victory with high strategic results. 
The sequel was worthy. In the days that followed 
the enemy were sought in vain. Our patrols went 
forward and returned empty of all news. ' Prue " 
Trench, beyond the wood, was empty. Men dug 
trenches peacefully and even sat out on the parapets. 



THE SIX WOODS 175 

" It was like a rest camp," said one subaltern, 
" and it was quite hard to forbid the men to 
wander about hunting for souvenirs, everything 
seemed so peaceful." 

No single event in the series of battles did more 
to break the enemy's confidence in himself than 
this joint combat in and round the peak of High 
Wood. The wood should be on London's 
escutcheon. When all was over those commanding 
inside and outside sent to each other messages of 
thanks and congratulation. Seldom had fellow- 
fighters better cause for mutual admiration. 
Englishmen shook hands with Englishmen indeed. 
The last of the Somme woods was won. 



CHAPTER X 
THE VILLAGE 

IT is a sight most pitiful, and yet in spite of 
other feelings most fascinating, to see the 
destruction of a village by shell-fire. You 
watch it as you watch the crumbling away of a log 
in a wood fire, or the absorption of summer 
clouds into the invisible air, wondering idly 
at the permanence of certain bits and frag- 
ments and the rapidity of the dissolution of 
others. 

I have seen many villages destroyed ; but out 
of their combined ruin one single building will 
always stand supremely distinct. On 2nd July, 
while walking along the edge of a trench on my 
flowery hill behind the battle, I noticed a column 
of smoke rise from the midst of a fringe of trees on 
the opposite slope. Very soon the column was 
absorbed into other columns : the fire in the trees 
was spreading. Within twenty minutes the trees 
changed from summer to winter. They were 
leafless, as if a sudden frost had stripped them. 
Behind them now stood out a fine, rather pretentious 
house. It appeared " from the blue," in an almost 

stagey manner, as if the drop scene and curtain 

176 



THE VILLAGE W 

had been lifted, revealing the mise en scene of the 
true act. The house had two wings with pointed 
towers and a facade of broad windows. By the 
time all its features were plain the trees round and 
about it had been converted from a winter grove 
to a line of telegraph poles, so bare and boughless 
were they. All the while the house, the chateau 
of Contalmaison, remained miraculously intact, as 
to its frontal facade. Shells exploded at every 
spot in its neighbourhood, smothering it in 
smoke ; but as the clouds blew aside, the twin 
towers reappeared, a rock unbroken by the 
surf. 

For many hours of three days I watched the 
fortunes of that chateau with an insatiable, an 
almost morbid curiosity ; and by some freak of 
luck, happened to be present at its most fateful 
hours. I had seen the very opening of the bom- 
bardment and the progressive wiping away of all 
surrounding features. On the third day, just as I 
topped the hill and turned with immediate curiosity 
towards Contalmaison, standing out in an atmo- 
sphere of visibility, such as we never enjoyed again 
during the battle, a most potent shell-burst appeared 
on the far side of the chateau. At the same 
moment a great piece of the left-hand tower 
collapsed. The impression was that the solid 
shell had hit it and exploded beyond. Such a 
thing happened to the church tower at Richebourg, 
bombarded in vain by the Germans, until a " dud 1 
shell hit it in the centre and without help of 
explosion brought it clattering down. The chateau 
was now a skeleton. You could look through 

12 



178 WITH THE BRITISH ON THE SOMME 

the hollow sockets of its eyes and observe, clearly 
with the naked eye, the broken bones of its limbs. 
But the skeleton remained still erect for a day 
or two ; and until the Yorkshire men charged over 
the open into its shattered precincts the Germans 
were tending their wounded in the great cellars. 
A few days later one of the most moving 
pictures it has ever been my lot to see was 
drawn by our " official artist/' Mr. Muirhead 
Bone, of this same Red Cross Station under 
British hands. 

No village, except Combles, where many houses 
still stood for the fleeing Germans to ruin, has been 
taken while the houses stood. But there are 
degrees of destruction. Boiselle, which I did not 
detect as a village till I was at its edge, and then 
recognized not by houses but by a fringe of trees, 
only existed below the ground. Down among the 
fetid trenches through it you continually touched 
the foundations of houses. Above ground it was 
even flatter than Souchez, where the French 
fought one of the bitterest battles of the war. 
Through this the poor old padre, returning by moon- 
light to review the scene of his labours, passed and 
repassed without discovering the place where he 
had known every soul, every bush for years. " The 
place of it was no more seen." So it is with scores 
of villages ; Guillemont perhaps is the worst of all. 
Just after one of our many assaults on this, I was 
present at a headquarters while the artillery attack 
was being discussed. It was decided to concentrate 
on a certain hundred yards along the south-western 
front a selection of every sort of heavy gun. One 



THE VILLAGE 179 

15-inch, two 12-inch, and a number of 0/2 and 8-inch 
and 6-inch. This pack of " heavies ,J duly gave 
tongue and made good shooting. Even the dust 
and rubble of what had been houses vanished 
under their ministrations ; and after an hour and 
a half our infantry advanced. Instantly, as soon 
as the first man was over the parapet, that hundred 
yards blazed with machine-guns. They rattled 
out as if all had been fired simultaneously by the 
pressure of a single electric contact. 

Yet even so in the sequel, after several failures, 
after the total disappearance of two units, the Irish 
and Cornish and others of our light troops galloped 
through the rubbish, and a day later a photographer 
was taking pictures of an apparent field, really the 
site of the village, while another crossed beyond 
to trenches thick with German dead. They lay 
in one place propping one another up. 

To one watching from a distance the attack 
on a village, there appears to be no room for 
human skill and courage among those colonnades 
of smoke and whorls of dust and that impenetrable 
reek. But character worked there and shone there 
as if every one had liberty of action. Seldom was 
any fight more productive of the characteristic 
virtue of different parts of the British Isles ; 
of quiet, methodical English courage in " con- 
solidating " in and " clearing up " — a very thankless 
task ; and of Welshmen doing yeoman work as 
patrols (as they did long ago in their great advance 
through Mametz Wood), and not least of the Irish 
troops, who careered through the northern part of 
Guillemont. 



180 WITH THE BRITISH ON THE SOMME 

Their triumphant rush through that village was 
curiously like the character of Irish football, though 
they dribbled no football as at Loos. Their " for- 
wards " — who managed to get at the back of the 
chief German defences — charged with such impetus 
that everything but the zest of the rush was for- 
gotten. They took no heed of machine-guns on 
the flank or even behind them, but cleared the 
village in their stride, went right across the open 
beyond, dived into the farther valley, where they 
concluded with some of the toughest fighting of the 
day along the sunken road. 

Did I say " concluded " ? Some groups were 
still insatiate, and mounted the slope almost to 
Leuze Wood, which was finally occupied two days 
later. How far they took their pipes with them 
does not appear ; but they started their attack 
with the full blare of this intoxicating music. This 
charge was notable even in respect of the distance 
covered. It was an athletes', an Olympic charge, 
as well as a great feat of arms ; and, before the 
end, a triumph of endurance. It gave a satisfying 
sense of the variety and association of talent in 
the new Army to picture these dashing Irish troops 
careering across the open, while the ground was 
being methodically cleared and settled behind them 
by English riflemen. 

Indeed, the whole story of the capture of Guille- 
mont was a model illustration of the Great Push 
in its later phase. Tactically perhaps the most 
important section of the battle was on the south-east, 
and not in the village itself. It consisted, in some 
part, of a duel of machine-guns, and yet further 



THE VILLAGE 181 

illustrated the development of this engine in the 
attack. 

Our men, who were held up by well-placed guns 
of the enemy (some in a very deeply cut road, such 
as is common thereabouts), themselves brought up 
a score or so of guns, and once again beat the machine- 
gun with the machine-gun. The Germans, proving 
very courageous, lifted theirs on to parapets and 
into shell holes. We did the same, finally getting 
the better of the duel ; and in the sequel killing a 
number of fugitives. The whole field of this battle 
was thick with German dead, many of course 
previously killed by shell fire. 

Guillemont and Ginchy were clean wiped off 
the face of the earth. Rather more was left of the 
villages stormed on 15th September, for they fell 
at the first assault. Among them Courcellette 
stands unique for the skill and surprise of its capture ; 
and here a number of presentable houses fringed 
obvious and passable streets. The story is a 
wonderful one. 

In the morning things had gone well. We had 
taken all the trenches attacked ; we had occupied a 
mile or so of ground, along with several trenches 
and the sugar factory fort, where Tanks came to 
the rescue of the infantry who had outrun them. 
Within two hours a firm victory was won 

It was decided not to let well alone. All concerned 
came to the same decision. But the first step was 
taken by Ontario troops on the right. With a 
promptitude that carried them almost — perhaps 
quite — into the arms of their own shell fire they 



182 WITH THE BRITISH ON THE SOMME 

pressed forward, leaving the village on their left, 
and most impertinently seized a reach of the sunken 
road that joins the sister villages of Martinpuich and 
Courcellette. They took prisoners, cleared dugouts, 
made firm in this most aggressive adventure, and 
remained almost alone all day with a vacant left 
flank. Germans appeared even behind them, and 
some groups came through them. Unruffled they 
continued to kill such rash intruders at intervals 
from 10.30 a.m. to 6 p.m., when the greater ad- 
venture began on their left. 

The splendid isolation of this wing was not to 
endure through the night. Great preparations had 
been made in the afternoon by troops in the rear. 
Right across the open, as in wars of movement 
before trenches were in fashion and shrapnel 
universal, strong supports had formed up and de- 
ployed this way and that with ingenious strategy. 
In the desolate landscape they had little but a 
compass to guide them. A chimney and house 
they were to steer by had already fallen to high 
explosive. Straight in front of them a German 
kite balloon swung wit If r obvious malevolence, 
endowed with the eyes of Argus and the wings of 
Mercury. Its messages had already reached the 
German artillery, as anyone could infer. 

The commander of one of the regiments which 
were to have the centre of the fight himself was 
buried three times, one of his officers told me. He 
moved like a shuttle, this way and that, himself 
continually correcting in person the alignment of the 
men and giving them their direction. " It was 
nothing. I just had to shake the earth off," was his 



THE VILLAGE 183 

own version. So they advanced, mile after mile, 
and just reached the leaping-board at the due 
moment. 

The morning charge was at 6.20 — the dawn of 
the anniversary of the arrival of these Canadian 
troops in France. It was nobly celebrated. The 
evening charge was just twelve hours later. Again 
all went pat. The barrage, the promiscuous bom- 
bardment, were nicely calculated. The filtering of 
the infantry into positions at an angle with their 
line of march — a " left incline " complicated by 
trenches — went smoothly ; and at the ordered 
moment the lines swept forward on to Cour- 
cellette. 

It was strongly garrisoned. Two regiments 
had their headquarters, well stocked and well 
equipped, in neighbouring cellars. At this moment 
their commanders were snugly housed there, and 
scattered about the village were about 1200 of 
their men — Prussians of the proudest sort. But 
they hardly played a soldier's part that evening. 
The French Canadians, who took more than half of 
the village, went through them like a pike through 
minnows. A few stopped to be bayoneted, a few 
tried to use machine-guns, but the mass retired 
or dived well underground till they were hidden 
by platoons in a cave. 

New Brunswickers followed on the heels of 
their companions to sweep the place clean. Their 
only trouble was to find the holes. These were 
often small, half covered with rubbish, and some- 
times ingeniously disguised. The " sweepers," who 
played as difficult and dangerous a game as the 



184 WITH THE BRITISH ON THE SOMME 

rest, came provided with bombs and other 
apparatus of the trade ; but they had little use for 
them. The rabbits did not wait for the ferrets. A 
frightened mask appeared at one orifice. " I'll 

give you two minutes to bring all the out," 

said a little Canadian then acting as " runner " ; 
and within two minutes — quite safely within two 
minutes — twenty-seven German soldiers, each with 
his hands up like an Egyptian idol, stumbled out. 
If a man put a hand to steady himself he brought 
it back instantly to the surrender position with a 
nervous click. Between 600 and 700 men were 
so collected. It was " as easy as shelling peas," 
this capture of the village, and filled our men with 
a surprising contempt of their enemy. 

The fight had only just begun, nevertheless. 
The evening was the eve of a more heroic wrestle. 
The village was captured, but the enemy was firmly 
placed in a strong system of deep trenches just 
outside the pale, beyond the quarry and the 
cemetery. He had an admirable base for a counter- 
stroke and good opportunity for one of the night 
attacks that he loves. 

In the darkest hour of a night never very dark, 
bombs, grenades, and other bursting things began 
to fall in and round the quarry. They increased 
in number and were lobbed from nearer and nearer. 
Just as a company commander was making last 
arrangements for defence a group of four men, 
maddened by battle-field fury, drunk with the con- 
fidence born of this day's fighting that the Germans 
could never stand the sight of cold steel — these 
four, yelling like wild Indians, left the cover of the 



THE VILLAGE 185 

quarry for the open. The noise of the shout and 
the bursting bombs forced an answering halloo 
from the rest of our men. 

The bombs suddenly ceased. Lights, fired up in 
quantity from the stores left behind by the enemy, 
disclosed the hinder parts of many green-coats 
stumbling away in this direction and that, for he 
was attacking as usual in little groups moving 
from different parts. At many times in these 
three days from Friday night to Sunday night the 
German was to be hit behind. In the earlier advance 
men had knelt down to rest the elbow on the knee 
for the surer sharpshooting of the fugitives. Later 
they were shot by their own weapons. We found 
in the trenches many rifles with much am- 
munition ; and very valuable they proved, serving 
well at a crisis, saving much carrying up of 
extra rounds. 

In a more positive way, too, the enemy helped 
us. Among the prisoners were two doctors ; and 
if any class in Germany is to be acquitted of blood- 
guiltiness it is the medical. All day and night they 
worked whole-heartedly. " We have nothing to 
do with the war but to help wounded men," they 
said, and they kept to their creed faithfully in the 
dugout wards of Courcellette. 

A strange experience in the capture of prisoners 
was that of an officer who was left badly 
wounded in a trench, refusing to keep anyone else 
back from the fight. As he lay there four Germans 
slowly emerged from a dugout almost at his feet. 
He covered them with his revolver, forced them to 
throw down their weapons, instructed them in the 



186 WITH THE BRITISH ON THE SOMME 

art of botching a temporary stretcher, and finally 
persuaded them to carry him back to a distant 
dressing-station. 

A stranger experience yet befell two unwounded 
officers. During a furious barrage they took refuge 
in a shell hole and began digging themselves a 
shelf. " Did you feel something move ? " said one. 
" Dig on and mind nothing else," said the other. 
Presently the heaving below them became more 
palpable and persistent, and further delving into the 
floor of their nook revealed a dead German whose 
body heaved up and down. They exhumed the 
corpse and disclosed below it the head and shoulders 
of another German apparently quite unhurt. Him 
they cleared to the middle, provided with a trench- 
ing tool to undig his lower limbs, and finally left 
with instructions to cut a trench between this shell 
hole and the next. And, like a good German, he 
did what he was bid. He undug himself. 

In this fight, as in all fights, " touches of things 
human " rose to " touch the spheres." On the 
body of a German officer lying stone dead and 
supine sat a small dog, " as near crying as a dog can 
go." Now and again he licked the dead face and 
whined in a whisper. He refused food and could 
not be made to leave. Two days before I had 
seen one of our own Guardsmen's dogs as full of grief 
and as far beyond consolation. Tactically, humanly, 
every way, this fight for Courcellette stands out. A 
single company took at least five hundred prisoners. 
An important trench in front of the village the day 
after its capture was charged and taken by no more 
than twenty-five French Canadians. A single man 



THE VILLAGE 187 

went out, took a machine-gun, carried it back, and 
offered to get " ever so many more." 

And the best parts of the story cannot yet be told. 
For myself, I see through all of it the figure of one 
man, the ideal officer that such issues always call up. 
He was in the Guards' attack too, marching, directing, 
acting as his own runner, making great decisions, 
sleepless, vigilant, quiet, incredibly active, hopeful 
against hope, eager to do or die, alert for either issue. 
When the Germans break his line he begins to realize 
that " things are not looking very bright." When 
they run he thanks God for his fine troops. He bears 
a charmed life, and his men feel too certainly for any 
misgiving that the German will run from their 
bayonets, whatever the odds ; and suppose he does 
not, the hopeful men fight the better. 

A man indeed is needed for such war. These 
troops advanced nearly three miles under the enemy's 
eyes in heavy shell fire. They stormed a fortified 
place strongly held, made good their ground, and 
fought continuously for two more days, repelling 
seven counter-attacks. All the while, before and 
after the advance, shells descended round them 
without intermission. 

No village perhaps has any unchallenged pre- 
eminence in the length of its siege or the degrees of 
its collapse. To-day not one exists at all to outward 
view : Montauban, Fricourt, Mametz, Guillemont, 
Ginchy, Flers, Gueudecourt, Morval, Le Sars, Martin- 
puich, Courcellette, Boiselle, Ovillers, Pozieres, 
Thiepval, St. Pierre Divion, Beaucourt, Beaumont- 
Hamel. Most of them you cannot see till you enter. 
Ovillers we won yard by yard in hand-to-hand 



188 WITH THE BRITISH ON THE SOMME 

fighting that never ceased day and night. In 
Pozieres the houses by the road were so long bom- 
barded that a continuous riband of some breadth 
was shrivelled by successive shells into fine dust 
scattered over miles of country. British shells 
destroyed the village, but none of our shell holes 
remain. They were soon ploughed out and cross- 
ploughed and harrowed by successive barrages of 
5 -9, working with monotonous persistence week after 
week. The villages which we left in partial ruin, 
such as Le Sars and Courcellette, the German con- 
tinues to finish off, and will while he can reach. 

Half these villages deserve the fame of Badajoz, 
and evoked as high courage — historic spots all ; but 
if they have a crown, the crown is Thiepval. It 
was the master bastion of the German defence. The 
French told us we should never take it. The face 
of the hill leading to it was a warren of strong places, 
with the Wonder Work in the middle, an oval of 
trenches, redoubts, and dugouts, where you could 
watch our shells exploding day in, day out. Below 
it was the Leipsic Redoubt, the one corner of trenches 
hereabouts taken on ist July. Alongside this was 
Mystery Corner, a harmless-seeming angle of German 
territory, of which our patrols were not fond. Men 
who crossed it were assaulted by unseen men from 
unknown directions, arising, as was afterwards seen, 
from many-holed dugouts. 

All this land was curiously visible. You could go 
close to it. You could watch the very effect of 
separate shells and keep record of the progressive 
whittling away of the apple trees that fringed the 
near face, Within Thiepval we knew that a picked 



THE VILLAGE 189 

regiment of Wurtembergers had lived for twenty 
months or so. They had fortified the place and 
made it so cosy that they obtained leave to stay 
there, as at home, working their own reliefs, as a self- 
sufficing unit. 

The place was as nearly as may be impregnable. 
But slowly we closed in. Three brilliant little 
rushes at different dates took us up to the Wonder 
Works and beyond. Troops closed in from the 
east, though the ridge of the hill was so thorny 
that no one dare stay in force along certain trenches. 
The doom of Thiepval approached. It fell on the 
morning of 23rd September — at the first assault, 
though the fighting was furious — almost coincidently 
with Combles, that bigger village in the hollow of 
the hills at the other end of the line. Its capture 
— in which Middlesex troops played a most gallant 
part — did more to enhance the glory of the British 
army in France than any other single event. I 
had seen many advances against Thiepval, but 
the day of its capture had walked with an officer 
to catch a near glimpse of Combles. As we reached 
a turn in the road in the shattered village of 
Maurepas we met a very tired but very eager 
French brigadier who had led his men into Combles 
and taken the biggest group of prisoners. He sat 
on a rickety chair by the roadside, utterly wearied 
by want of sleep and much movement, but was 
already on his way to organize a new advance. 
His eyes glinted with excitement as he saw the 
khaki. "Is it true about Thiepval ? " he asked ; 
and when we said it was true, felicitations poured 
forth in a stream in which every other word 



190 WITH THE BRITISH ON THE SOMME 

meant glorious. Then he told us his story, and 
sent us on our way to watch from close quarters 
the baffled Germans sullenly pounding the relic 
walls and filling the air with a red dust, as if the 
light of sunset were on the cloud. 



CHAPTER XI 
THE OPEN FIELD 

ANEW world seemed to be disclosed when 
the last of the woods on the battle-field fell 
into our hands ; for it stood on the peak 
of the ridge. You could see a new world, a free, 
natural world, with cultivated fields below, and 
the homely-looking clock tower of Bapaume, and 
the tall spire of Pys church and the old historic 
monument — soon to be called " the Gunner's 
Delight " — known as the Butte of Warlencourt. 
Even the signs of war were diminished. Fewer 
trenches and less wire were visible from High 
Wood, and for a while even artillery fire languished. 
The war appeared at last to be open. More 
than ever our men avoided trenches. A large 
notice, " Use the trench here," was at first entirely 
disobeyed by five or six pioneers hurrying forward 
for their night work in No Man's Land close to 
High Wood, though presently they were driven 
to cover by a shell. Generally one felt a coward 
if one hugged a trench closely. Such was the 
sentiment of the new field ; but the deception of 
semblance seldom went further. Below the smooth 

lava crust the fires burned. The new warfare 

191 



192 WITH THE BRITISH ON THE SOMME 

nursed terrors of which even the woods were 
innocent. 

From the first few days of the Somme battle 
soldiers began to acquire the new habit of moving 
in the open. The valleys and hill-sides seethed 
with activity. Horses were corralled everywhere. 
Avenues of horses pencilled out the valleys. You 
smelt horse wherever you wandered. At one only 
reach of a little stream that I passed almost daily 
forty-eight thousand horses watered within each 
twenty-four hours. These were just within shell 
fire. 

Nearer the line men took the place of horses ; 
and at first it was difficult to believe the eyes 
when you saw the troops scattered all over the 
slope, without any apparent attempt at conceal- 
ment, as if artillery fire did not exist. And yet 
the shells from our own guns almost scraped the 
heads of some of these groups, and they moved 
in a world of perpetual clamour. The limit of 
this freedom of movement was reached on 16th 
September, when the enemy hurried down the slope. 

Such freedom could not last long, and did not. 
The very worst of the war was to come, and a new 
guerrilla warfare began to emerge. You may tear 
heart out of comparison and find no simile to 
convey a picture of the open battle-field. Imagine 
the carpet of snow under a tree when the thaw 
begins and dibbles every inch with dirty holes 
and put the picture under a microscope ; further, 
imagine the surface littered with dirty fragments 
of all sorts of cloth and metal and of live things — 
so you may gather some perception of the surface 



THE OPEN FIELD 193 

of the battle-field. Up beyond Pozieres where 
shelling was perhaps thickest, shell cases lay so 
close that you could scarcely avoid trampling them 
in. Some were collected to serve as metal for a 
light railway, but the number was not sensibly 
diminished thereby. Along certain strips the shells 
had so continued to churn the soil that its particles 
were attenuated to dust which agglutinated into 
mud as prehensile as glue — a chemical compound 
beyond the power of manufactury. Across the 
most easterly slope round the village of Lesbceufs 
the effect of the dibbling was to rob the landscape 
of any distinction. It was difficult beyond belief 
to discover even approximately which line of earth 
corresponded to the map-line, and the whereabouts 
of the enemy was as shrewd a problem. 

So the new guerrilla war came to develop. Any 
hole anywhere might conceal a sniper or a machine- 
gunner. A regular system was worked out by the 
enemy for converting the hole into a redoubt. The 
gunner tunnelled a deep hole for himself into which 
he could slip when the shells began, without leaving 
his gun for more than a second or two at a time ; 
and for the gun itself a little square earth-walled 
redoubt was contrived. Positions were no longer 
held by trenches, but by scattered fortresses, 
isolated strong points, irregular butts, eccentric 
ambuscades. The artillery were robbed of the 
regular target offered by a trench and a properly 
engrooved enemy, and could only spray the 
surface of the ground and sweep it back and fore. ' 
Across all that archipelago of holes separating 
the villages of Morval and Lesbgeufs and Le Transloy 

J 3 



194 WITH THE BRITISH ON THE SOMME 

we saw day after day, first shrapnel and then high 
explosive, or shrapnel close on the heels of high 
explosive, searching out these death-traps ; and 
now and again bits of gun or woodwork or man 
would swivel round into the air, a solid object in 
the midst of the dust and mud and smoke^ the 
eruption of a 0/2 shell The men fighting in this 
open country, not in woods or villages, engaged in 
battles without definition ; and sometimes lost the 
glory, the reputation that belongs to a victory with 
a habitation and name. In some degree the Guards 
so suffered. They came up into the line for the 
battle of 15th September : Grenadiers, Coldstreamers, 
Scotch, Irish, and Welsh Guards. It was almost a 
battle to get into the line, from the zigzag of trenches 
merging into shell holes above the ruins of Ginchy. 
No one, not even the airman and map makers, 
could quite give them the chart either of their 
own trenches or of the lines they were to take. As 
they discussed the great fight to come and the 
weapons and stores they would need, a young 
officer said, " What we shall want most is our 
compasses " ; and he himself afterwards earned 
fame and a decoration by the coolness with which 
he stood on the stricken field and took bearings 
with map and instruments. 

Ugly and formless was the country, and will be 
for many days, perhaps years. But when we hear 
or read the names of the gallant men who fought 
and died in it, we should have some picture in 
our mind of what they faced and endured for home 
and country. Many whose names are known 
through the length and breadth of the land perished 



THE OPEN FIELD 195 

in this chaos. Raymond Asquith, a fine soldier 
and a gallant spirit, was one among the losses of 
the Grenadiers, who fought throughout, with an 
exposed flank and under artillery observation. 
Never was a more gallant fight recorded, in a 
field so foully featured and void. : 

Here for the first time in history three battalions 
of the Coldstream Guards went over in line. They 
were swept and raked by rifle and machine-gun 
fire from many directions, and all the while the 
shells fell right and left. For 200 yards the blast 
in their front and flank was enough to have stopped 
a locomotive. It did not stop the men. In the 
midst of it, of a sudden they came upon an un- 
suspected trench from which the enemy rose in thick 
ranks. The sight was all they needed to add the last 
touch to their fighting spirit. At last they were at 
grips, man to man, when the better man would win. 
The enemy fired rifles point blank and threw 
bombs. The Guards used only the bayonet. Each 
man, they said, got his man. The enemy fought 
now in the open as well as below ground, and the 
sight of these new regiments, body to body, hand 
to hand, stabbing, hitting, even wrestling, so stirred 
the Irishmen coming up in support that they rushed 
forward at the double to take their part. Men, 
N.C.O/s, subalterns, commanding officers, doctors, 
artillery observers, burst into an incredible shout, 
smothered by the noise of the guns, but like the 
swish of the shells savagely inspiriting. 

The enemy had fought well. He thought he could 
stop the Guards ; but the bayonet was irresistible, 
and of a sudden the desperation of the struggle 



96 WITH THE BRITISH ON T HE SOMME 

broke. " We flushed 'em and they rose like a 
covey of partridges." The battle became a chase. 
The prisoners who surrendered were just given 
leave to hurry back without escort to our lines, 
and took the permission at the gallop, to be rounded 
up like homing sheep, away behind. One group 
went astray, headed off in its nervousness by other 
advancing troops, before it was again corralled off 
like any other half -wild animal. The fight and the 
chase went on, morning, day and evening. Germans 
rose from mysterious holes and picked off isolated 
men. One Guardsman had a duel at 60 yards with 
a Bavarian sniper. Each fired three shots. The 
Guardsman's last went home and the German fell. 

All this while, whether advancing or stopping 
in shell holes or trenches, officers greeted one 
another as if they were meeting in Piccadilly, with 
familiar greetings and Christian names and the 
common chaff of the regiments. Unimaginable 
events made little difference. A young subaltern, 
in battle for the first time, was transferred of a 
sudden " into a maze of glory," conscious that he 
was dead, that was all. Presently he found himself 
at the bottom of a shell hole quite unhurt, when 
he continued his mission of search for a machine- 
gun officer. He met one at last and asked him his 
name. He asked once, twice, three times, without 
eliciting an answer. At last the man put his mouth 
to his ear, made a funnel with his hands, and bellowed 
his loudest. Then for the first time the subaltern 
understood that the shell which had opened the 
earth beneath him had left him stone deaf. But 
the deafness, too, passed. He fought all day, and 



THE OPEN FIELD 197 

spent the night at patrol work making posts in 
front of the line. 

Some golden moments were "vouchsafed in this 
immortal charge, which carried the Guards over a 
mile and more of shell-raked and bullet-raked 
desert. While they drove the Germans before 
them the sun, below the horizon when they started, 
had reached high noon. It lit a new landscape. 
A German battery was seen in action, the officers 
taking notes and the gunners shovelling shells 
into the breech. Enemy J s transport trailed along 
the roads. Undamaged steeples rose from the 
midst of peaceful villages. But soon the pano- 
rama shifted like " the baseless fabric of a vision." 
The German guns limbered up and galloped off. 
The transport vanished, and just a little while 
later the village houses toppled and the homesteads 
merged into the general desolation of war. 

Some figures emerge from the ruck of battle 
in almost ghostly salience. An officer who felt 
then and afterwards that he had never lived so 
splendid, so exhilarating a day in his life — such men 
do really exist — took no cover, but went exultingly 
forward to any nucleus of resistance he could dis- 
cover. He killed man after man, some with the 
pistol, some with a stick. 

One of his men, as great an athlete, if less en- 
dowed with valkyrie spirit, rushed a machine-gun 
post, shot two of the men, bayoneted a third, and 
' caught the fourth a clip with my fist." Some 
rival of another company then claimed the captive 
machine-gun ; but the Irishman settled the dispute 
by taking the weighty thing under his arm and 



198 WITH THE BRITISH ON THE SOMME 

carrying it back deliberately across the open. He 
did not stop till he had delivered it personally to 
the headquarters of his unit. While officers greeted 
one another with the natural exchange of social 
phrase, the men called out hilarious encourage- 
ment : "Go it, Lilly whites," " Go it, Ribs/' using 
the vocatives of the playing field. And here it was, 
out in the open, that Colonel Campbell blew a 
Roland and Oliver blast on his silver hunting-horn 
and rallied his Coldstreamers to the final triumphant 
charge, as he would call his harriers over Shropshire 
fields. The day after the fight I saw men stroke 
that horn and touch it as if there were health and 
honour in the mere contact. But all day and night 
it was bitter fighting, as every man and every 
officer knew. 

The enemy ran, but it was not allowed to pursue 
them. I heard an officer apologize to his men, 
almost with tears, because he had forbidden longer 
pursuit. Trenches occupied were often shallow 
and very full — full of Germans, some gibbering, 
some obsequious, some wounded and crying for 
food or water, some quite quiet ; full, too, of fighters, 
some hale, some dead, some wounded. The padre 
was all day in the front line giving religious con- 
solation where he could, and at night helping to 
bury the dead. Stretcher-bearers tried to push 
up, and when unable went into the open without 
fuss or hurry. Shells fell all the while — big shells 
and some mysterious shells smaller than the three- 
inch. Wounded men were taken into the small 
but deep dugouts that the enemy had dug in this 
loamy soil. In some both doctors and padres 



THE OPEN FIELD 199 

found hiding Germans and sent them hustling 
off to the rear. 

Through it all order reigned, though companies 
were mixed together ; and one bit of trench might 
be crammed while another was neglected. In 
spite of all this crumples were . smoothed out. 
Officers with compasses and surveying tools quietly 
took bearings, and orderlies were sent back with 
precise messages. Our artillery battered a counter- 
attack and sent a German battalion scattering till 
it vanished like steam from an engine. Patrols 
went forward. Good digging was done. Water 
and food were brought up, and here and there 
astonishing supplies of soda-water, bread, and coffee- 
beans collected in German dugouts. 

The history of the Guards contains no finer 
record. " It was worth living, even if I am killed 
to-morrow, just to have seen such men charge," 
said one commanding officer, whose speech to his 
men after action will be remembered lifelong, 
almost syllable by syllable, by all who heard it. 
Nor in war at any time is any scene more moving 
than when, the battle over, a regiment lines up 
under some shelter in the misty dawn to take toll 
of the missing. However gaily men fight, at that 
moment they love not war. And the Guards 
fought the gayest fight of which ever I heard news 
or any troubadour dreamed ; and fought it against 
bitter odds, the odds of an open flank ; and won, 
inflicting more than they suffered. 

In this attack by the Guards, the base of attack 
was a regular trench, and the first enemy they met 
were in regular trenches ; but both here and yet 



200 WITH THE BRITISH ON THE SOMME 

more on the highland beyond the Windmill off the 
Bapaume road ground was sometimes held solely 
by posts, as in the early days of the war. The 
worst of the enemy's artillery fire was thus avoided ; 
but such a post needs more nerve and common 
sense in the garrison than any trench. It is a 
task in itself, when dusk comes, to separate friend 
from foe. Even if a bomb falls it does not follow 
that one of your own patrols have not thrown it. 
The posts are difficult to relieve, partly because 
they are difficult to find ; and not a few men have 
been lost. 

The use of the shell hole encouraged night-fight- 
ing. Indeed, latterly the enemy became a night 
bird, as ill-omened as any owl. His artillery and 
his scattered machine-guns both doubled activity 
after dusk fell. Across the open, above Pozieres, 
Germans lay about in shell holes as snug as trap- 
spiders or hermit-crabs ; but he trusted for his 
safety wholly to utter secrecy by day and to dark- 
ness by night. While the sun was up these lurkers 
fired no single shot ; but at night the rattle of their 
machines was as continual as, often, it was vain. 
So easy was it to mistake your fears for a figure, and 
to imagine an attack every time a star-shell hung 
for a moment in the air. 

Of course the shell hole and the trench merged 
imperceptibly one into the other. A trench much 
shelled might be less like a trench than a line of 
accidentally symmetric shell holes on the flat. 
Indeed, we once mistook such a line for a trench, 
and were amazed to find no Germans in possession. 
And the shell holes were more easily welded into a 



THE OPEN FIELD 201 

trench than the damaged trench itself. But it 
may be said that at many points the shell hole 
has become a real rival to the sap, the fire, the 
front, support, assembly, communication, or any 
and every other sort of trench. Such now is the 
standard method of fighting. 

Half the latest trenches are little more than 
shell holes linked up. By their means a makeshift 
line may be constructed in a few hours, as we 
proved and the enemy proved again and again. 
Defences spring up like mushrooms in the course 
of the night, and the attacking force has no well- 
defined obstacle to face. Often you cannot say 
where one line begins and the other ends, for No 
Man's Land has developed into Every Man's Land, 
and swelled in size beyond all recognition. 

A strange and grim warfare is this. Men have 
become like wild beasts in the jungle, some trusting 
for safety to stillness in their forms or lairs, some 
prowling and alert to spring. The wounded may 
be lying at the bottom of these treacherous holes, 
and the life-savers may sometimes lose their lives 
in vain searchings. In a night attack by Bazentin 
le Petit a Midland soldier, from a company who 
had lost direction for the moment, rushed forward 
with his county's name as a battlecry to prove 
whether he and his were approaching friend or foe, 
and he fell wounded by a friend's bullet. You could 
find no finer heroism than that, no higher sacrifice, 
nor any more pitiable example of the blind muddle 
of war. 

Over the middle and centre of our line we had 
always the better of the German at this guerrilla 



202 WITH THE BRITISH ON THE SOMME 

warfare in the archipelago of shell holes ; but he 
held us up for a month in the spaces in front of 
Le Transloy on the right more by virtue of the 
isolated sharpshooter than by such strong points 
and redoubts as the Stuff and Schwaben mud 
fortresses which we stormed on the hill above the 
Ancre. Vague lines of country, marked by sunken 
roads and old gun emplacements and howitzer 
holes tidied up, were taken and retaken five or six 
times ; and when all was over no one quite knew 
where anyone else was. To such a state has the 
heavy shell and the science of the new warfare 
reduced what should be open fighting. 

Some attempts were made to take advantage of 
the open held and the open fight, to pretend it was 
really open. When we were approaching Le Sars 
pn the ist of October, a few horsemen strayed into 
the half-empty land away on their left ; and one of 
them brought back a story of knight-errantry that 
leaves chronicles of the Middle Ages bankrupt. 
Even robbed of its more picturesque details it is 
curious enough. 

A pair of knights smuggled their horses up in the 
dusk and rode out, seeing no enemy, till at length 
both their steeds were shot from some subterranean 
ambush or other. Undeterred, the two proceeded 
on foot. Presently they saw a white flag waved 
by an unseen hand, but as they approached the 
place, a flanking enemy fired from a neighbouring 
hollow, and one knight fell. The other, serpentining 
his way through the muddy labjointh, entered 
the ambush and took two Germans prisoners. He 
returned with the captives to his base trench and 



THE OPEN FIELD 203 

again set forth, meeting similar adventures, and 
again started home, this time with a major as his 
captive, joining a Red Cross cavalcade on the way. 
All went well till a great shell scattered the whole 
party. The knight-errant found himself still un- 
harmed, but his captive had clean vanished, perhaps 
into thin air. 

Such adventures may seem incredible even 
to men righting in the neighbourhood, but the 
tale is no more than a sober epitome of what 
really happened on a quiet autumn afternoon near 
the French hamlet of Pys. And it is no exception. 
The patrol work all through the righting was com- 
pact of adventurous surprises. 

But it was not till October came that the enemy 
quite developed his " open-air system " of defence, 
when day after day of rain and diminishing hours 
of evaporation made marshland of the hill-sides, 
when horses bringing ammunition sank to their 
hocks, when men crawled from their trenches on 
all fours, when the straggler ran real risk of drown- 
ing and the walls of trenches subsided by their own 
weight and weakness, when brigadiers, colonels, and 
majors as well as the rest were sniped as they de- 
viated across the open, avoiding the communication 
trench as an evil worse than the risk of death. 

When we give thanks for brave soldiery, when 
we recall the travail they have endured in battle and 
between whiles, when we try to picture the pains 
and penalties of the men in the trenches, we should 
think perhaps first of the men who fought in October 
and November, when the Somme battle was near 
its finish, in the shallow, unrevetted trenches 



204 WITH THE BRITISH ON THE SOMME 

stretching between the flattened villages. Every 
one knows how gloriously the Australians fought at 
Pozieres when they stormed it. Few know what 
grim days they spent in the glue of the trenches 
between Gueudecourt and the Butte. Bitter 
rights were fought here as in front of Le Transloy 
by English troops, of which nothing has been heard 
or will be heard, so muddy and obscure and ill- 
defined was the nature of each engagement and each 
period of the day's work. Reliefs spent a day in 
reaching their destination. Supplies of food and 
wire and ammunition could scarcely be got through 
at all. When an attack was attempted the shells 
buried themselves without exploding, and the men 
were literally ensnared by the mud, so that they 
could neither advance nor retreat nor fight where 
they were. Captured prisoners could scarcely be 
extracted. Shells, which did not kill, buried, and 
scores of heroic rescues were to the credit of pioneers 
and other soldiers, who spent two, even three, hours 
in digging out a single man smothered in one of 
these earth slides. 

The Slough of Despond never equalled some 
marshes in this righting area ; and yet the men bore 
it out without any surrender or weakening of 
their will to conquer. They " stuck it." They 
" carried on." 



CHAPTER XII 
COMING OUT 

IF you wish to feel the full humanity of a tale 
of battle hear and see the men who have 
fought through it all the very day after they 
have left the field. Earlier is too early ; for as they 
come back into billets or camp they are one and all 
weighted down with sleep. You wonder sometimes 
whether they will tumble down with the burden, 
though they walk briskly and sing in snatches. 

One of the bitterer battles by Pozieres lasted, 
for a unit on which my personal interest was centred, 
a whole six days. A brigadier-general had slept just 
one and a half hour in the six days. One of the 
soldiers had slept not at all for four days ; but except 
for a shrapnel hole in his helmet and a shrapnel 
scratch on the lip, showed small sign of the fighting 
in person or in kit. He was setting off quite cheerily 
on a three hours' walk. 

One begins to believe that the power or will to do 
without sleep is the greatest of all battle-winning 
gifts or forms of courage. To murder sleep is 
certainly one of the aims of modern tactics. One 
company in this battle fought eight long and dis- 
tinct bomb-fights up German trenches subsequent to 

305 



206 WITH THE BRITISH ON THE SOMME 

the first charge. The enemy was using almost ex- 
clusively his newer little and light bombs, each about 
the size of an egg. We replied with our bigger and 
more dangerous bomb, and the struggle oscillated 
up and down two parallel trenches almost continu- 
ously day and night. 

But it is less the active labour than the length of 
the fighting hours which tells. Usually the men can 
be relieved within forty-eight hours, and that is long 
enough for any troops if the action has been hot ; 
but in some of the rough-and-tumble trench fights, 
where no clear objective is marked, a battalion, or, at 
any rate, a platoon or two may be entangled in a 
limitless struggle. At any time the arrival of the 
relief is one of the greatest events ; and no man is 
more genuinely hated for the moment than the 
relief which is late. In the old days of stagnant 
trench warfare, when the front trenches were a sort 
of home, where food could be cooked in almost 
luxury, and the road of departure up a revetted alley 
was safe and sound, the hour of relief mattered less, 
though it mattered much. At the worst time in 
the Ypres trenches, a Guardsman of catering genius 
boasted, " We always had five courses and a glass of 
port to finish with," even in the front line. But 
when the trench is unstable mud, a line marked on 
no map, or, if marked, bumped out of all shape, 
when the alley or avenue does not exist, for the 
trench has just been captured, when food and drink 
have come up in the meagrest driblets, if at all, when 
every nerve has been racked by the sights and sounds 
of open battle, of friends killed and beyond recogni- 
tion, of others calling faintly for help — then the 



COMING OUT 207 

lateness of the relief is a tragedy. You await them 
in an agony. Even the most patient or insensate 
find the tension extreme. An hour or two more or 
less of endurance could be easily suffered, as part 
of the day's work, if a race were not involved, the 
race with dawn. If the relief does not come " good 
and early " the silhouettes of the outgoing troops 
will be visible to enemy observers ; and men who 
have just won and lived through a face-to-face fight 
will be shot in the back as they slip away. 

The Guards had one unendurable experience of 
this sort after their first great fight. One of them — a 
man of letters — caught himself murmuring again and 
again, " Risest thou thus, dim dawn, again ? " as 
he watched the light struggling over that void and 
shapeless ridge while the belated relief slowly and 
deliberately " took over." His anxiety exceeded 
all fears in the battle itself ; and he had suffered 
much, rounding up a day of death and wounds 
with patrol work at night away in front of the 
trench. When at last he and the others slipped 
away, each felt inordinately visible till he was 
over the ridge and drew up under the ridge to count 
losses, to tabulate cold facts of dead and wounded, 
to be assured of the number of the men with whom 
he would never mess again. 

A few days later some Northumberland Fusiliers 
suffered yet worse things. The relief, half bogged 
in the mud, took nine hours to make the journey, 
and arrived when dawn had broken. Double forces 
held the trench through the day, and when night came 
these half-exhausted men started themselves on an 
infinite march : five hours along the pock-marked 



208 WITH THE BRITISH ON THE SOMME 

slope, three more along the alleged road, another 
hour and a half to reach the rough little village where 
they might at last bed down in some sort of ease, if 
not comfort. Not often is the demand on cheerful- 
ness and stamina so exacting as this ; for not often 
is the weather so wet, the ground so sodden, the 
alley so tumbled. But always a man needs an 
athlete's training and an Englishman's spirit to come 
through the ordeal as a veteran soldier should. It 
is hardest when the time in the trench was itself a 
mere act of endurance, a suffering of cold and wet 
and shell-fire. After a victory the men will sing and 
jest through any trial, even though the march comes 
at the end of a week of hard fighting and slow endur- 
ance of desperate shelling. When such troops come 
away from the field thinned in ranks, licking their 
wounds, as I met them after the capture of Guille- 
mont, worn in body and mind, less this officer and 
that companion ; when the general, with mixed 
tears of pride in his voice, says to them as they pass, 
" Well done, men, well done ! " when they march 
on in companies no bigger than platoons, scarcely 
able to know whether their victory or loss weighed 
most — a man who has not faced the music with 
them can hardly endure to write of the glory of 
victory. 

The press and tumult of war are on every side. 
Cannon and caisson and van and lorry and marching 
troops and teams of horses and mules, and above all 
the still unceasing clamour of innumerable guns and 
bursting shells, make such a setting for the return 
of the fighters that only war values count and are 
reckoned. It is war to the death. The fight they 



COMING OUT m 

came from, the great and crucial victory they won 
had all of war in it. They fought in the open ; 
they stormed strong places like citadels ; they 
captured prisoners ; they dug defences ; they used 
machine-guns, rifles, bombs, grenades, bayonets ; 
and the wounds were received and given by almost 
every engine,, chemical or mechanical, known in 
modern war. 

Yet all this is put aside from the minds of most 
of the men as they come near the end of the march. 
Billets are a more crucial question than bullets. 
Even souvenirs (the helmets they vaunt and — 
perhaps — the gewgaws they conceal) yield to the 
thought of sleep and food, but first and foremost of 
sleep — sleep anywhere, in mud-barn or dilapidated 
cellar. If you told them that the impossible was to 
happen, and they were to sleep in beds, they could 
hardly look more contented. 

Spirits recover long before the battalion is out 
of the range of shells. After a desperate and 
muddy fight beyond Pozieres, some Kentish and 
other south county troops entertained some of us 
in a tent pitched on a spot round which the enemy 
was peculiarly fond of distributing odd shells, 
big and small. The men had not yet made good 
any of the arrears of sleep and rest ; but their 
sense of humour and gaiety was so restored that 
from their tale you would have thought that the 
battle was a jest. These Kentish troops had begun 
the attack " in a smell of rotten eggs," as they 
said, or the fumes of many score shells of asphyxi- 
ating gas. They had been pelted with bombs. The 
German bombers, freed from all trappings, stood in 

14 



210 WITH THE BRITISH ON THE SOMME 

front of trays covered with bombs, which they 
picked up and threw almost as smartly as a printer 
picks up type. 

The English were raked by machine-guns from 
both right and left. They passed through curtains 
of condensed fire. They had hammered and been 
hammered for two or three da}^ unceasingly, but 
to listen to their tale of the righting was to split your 
sides with laughter ; and no narrator was more 
humorous than that soldier who had fought con- 
tinuously since Mons and suffered all the terror of 
those munitionless winter and spring months in 
Flanders without loss of high spirits. There was a 
fortune for a music-hall star in the account of the 
German prisoner, laden with heavy kit, and so 
nervous when ordered to doff it that he \;ould 
scarcely distinguish between his rifle, his straps, 
and his bombs. 

The story of the bolting of Germans from a crowded 
dugout was Rabelaisian. Imagine a single soldier 
in a strange trench at night-time controlling a 
crowded cave of foreign-speaking enemy ! Some- 
times he shouted instructions ; sometimes he 
listened, as a keeper listens at a rabbit -hole, — the 
comparison is the soldier's, — and heard rumblings 
and patterings which indicated that some of the 
occupants were making for the bolt-hole. To this 
he had to run like a fussed terrier, to stop them 
bolting too quick or persuade them to bring out 
the wounded first. 

The most delightful incident of all was the final 
marshalling and marching off of one large group of 
prisoners. The soldiers told off to conduct them 



COMING OUT 211 

were so pleased and proud of their job that they 
marched off with fixed bayonets at the head of 
the procession, with the whole queue of Germans 
behind them, and this at night ! 

What human, pitiful, contradictory feelings and 
episodes stand out in sudden distinctness from 
such a night ! A subaltern, full of fight, half- 
savage for the time and in a mental ecstasy, rushes 
to stab a Prussian soldier. The glint of a Verey 
light catches the German's Mce, and a sudden pity 
intervenes. He seizes the enemy by the belt and 
throws him behind him. As he falls, his whole 
person rattles and the subaltern sees that the 
German's belt is festooned with bombs at which he 
is fingering. Imagine how one of those eighty 
soldiers of the nth Prussians whom the Kents 
took prisoner, would have told the story ! How 
full it would have been of blood and death and 
terror and glory and the hated foe ! 

Billet scenes are as vivid in many minds as battle 
scenes. Sometimes the troops retire directly into 
tents, and there are camps more famous or 
notorious than any groups of houses or dugouts ; 
but the most constant picture of hours of relief 
from the Somme fighting is of one particular type 
of village. Along the streets, churned into per- 
manent mud by war traffic, run not for the most part 
houses and cottages, but barns and outhouses 
built of lathes and mud, a substance that needs, 
but in war-time hardly receives, regular repair. 
Behind these rather forbidding stables is concealed 
a courtyard, often used as a manure dump ; and 
behind that a comely little house or cottage. 



212 WITH THE BRITISH ON THE SOMME 

How often have I passed through the kitchen, 
where an old man and woman of all ages sit down 
to lap their midday soup, and opened the inner door 
into the officer's mess-room. The cleanliness, the 
polish set on things, depend very much on the 
interval between the arriving and the departing 
guest, for men follow close on j one another's heels, 
or those coming back from the line may pass 
almost at the door those going forward ; and many 
of these billets are only occupied for one or two 
nights. I should doubt if any event on the battle- 
field, however tragic, produces so fine a flow of 
complaint as the sudden, unexpected order to 
" move on " just when every one is settling down 
to the new berth, and to friendly acquaintance 
with the hosts. It is the last straw, they say ; but 
in a wonderfully short time the battalion is swing- 
ing down the road with the usual song and jest, 
and the French mayor of the hamlet, with de- 
spairing shrugs but genial energy, is providing a 
new billeting officer, with a yet more English 
accent than the last, with a list of houses and 
barns capable of holding just so many officers 
and men. 

It is a constant astonishment that all goes so 
smoothly between the French villager and the 
British soldier. They understand one another to 
a marvel, thanks to astounding feats of the sign 
language Numerals, a smile, a souvenir, and " no 
bonne " compose most of the vocabulary, but it 
suffices not only for necessities but as a foundation 
for friendly intercourse ; and the incidents and 
requirements of the successive battalions are so 



COMING OUT 213 

similar that as the war lengthens a real lingua 
franca grows and develops. 

The relationship is not easy or natural. War 
does not mellow manners among soldiers or civilians, 
and standards of morality turn many a cat-i'-pan 
on occasion. The British soldier may steal directly 
and the French civilian indirectly ; but when all 
is said or thought, I have never ceased to wonder 
at the mutual friendship. " They are very kind," 
say the French villagers, especially those who 
have children, " and very generous " ; and when 
things go at all wrong, " Que voulez-vous ? Ce sont 
les soldats " — a shrug is all the complaint. We 
bring money into the villages, and it is appreciated, 
though devices for evading billeting duties are 
common. You may not by French law billet on a 
lone woman or in an inn. So some women banish 
the rest of the household till the house is taken off 
the billeting list, and others, with the aid of a good 
easy mayor, convert their home into an inactive inn, 
— or " estaminet " — called by our soldiers a " jesta- 
minute." Nevertheless, amity reigns. On the 
whole, the men are popular, more popular perhaps 
than the officers, who do not arouse any sense of 
pity and whose approach is stiffer. Yet they too 
like their hosts and are liked. I heard the full 
tale of one marvellous Australian fight round 
Pozi&res from a fighting colonel while he sat at tea 
at a most dapper little table and interrupted his 
story by sallies in the most amazing French with 
three hostesses, who hung on his lips and begged 
for interpretation of any detail they missed. And 
they missed many, for the colonel's French was 



214 WITH THE BRITISH ON THE SOMME 

little better than the ladies' English. Three 
Desdemonas drank the words of one Othello, and 
the scenic effort was enhanced by the real boom 
of cannon and a view of streets full of soldiers. 

The billets may be anywhere and of any sort, 
under fire of guns or behind divisional headquarters. 
They may be tents or dugouts or Armstrong huts, 
or now and again, as often in July, in the open 
air. But more men are billeted in houses than 
elsewhere ; and the companionship with French 
villagers is part and parcel of the normal life. In 
the villages nearer the line, the stay is often short, 
for the incomers may be on the move to a real rest 
behind. They may be carried on their way by 
'buses and lorries ; but for the most part they go 
on Shanks' mare, and cover long reaches. 

Once in the high heat of summer I saw a few men 
fall out and lag while the worried officer rode to 
and fro in perpetual effort to keep the battalion 
together. But only once. The training and the 
spirit of the troops are equal to the demand what- 
ever the season ; and dog-tired and sleepless with 
days and nights of fighting, battalions still swing 
along with something of that athletic spring which 
stirred French villagers to a frenzy of admiration 
along the line of country whence we chased the 
flying Germans in the first September of the war. 
" Your athletics serve you well," said an old French 
doctor whom I then met. " Never did I see men 
before who so danced when they walked." 

It is a moving Odyssey, the return from the 
trench, at whatever point you touch it : at the 
furtive slipping away in the dark or dusk, at the 



COMING OUT 215 

grouping and roll call, during the long plod across 
the field and along the alleged roads, where perhaps 
a general meets and greets and praises them, or 
towards its end, along the real roads of a safe land, 
when the men pull along the hand trollies almost 
with the dogged silence of animals ; and the expecta- 
tion of immediate sleep takes off the jauntiness of 
the enemy's helmet, substituted for the hat, and 
reduces the bubbling delight in the more solid 
trophies — the enemy's machine-guns pulled on the 
trollies among a medley of various kit. 

It is a moving Odyssey ; but the spectacle of the 
men marching forward carries a deeper appeal. 
The companies are all at full strength, and you are 
not tempted, as you see them pass, to tragic and 
vain counting of the toll of battle. The men walk 
more briskly and sing more readily ; but the 
vivacity and expectancy of the hours before battle 
have a poignancy, peculiar and irresistible. On 
1st July and at various attacks the attacking troops 
were marked with bright patches of colour, triangles 
of yellow or whatnot, fixed to their back. Ticketed 
and docketed, they went forward to the great ad- 
venture in a spirit and with a manner so matter of 
fact, so free from the flamboyancy of glory, the 
affectation of heroism, or the dullness of mere 
obedience that your admiration and wonder were 
left without handle or, as it were, excuse. Their 
simplicity left you no sentimental refuge from 
hopes and fears already too poignant to endure. 

This simple modesty of manner never fails them. 
On the way up to see an attack at Thiepval, I met 
in a very narrow communication trench some of 



216 WITH THE BRITISH ON THE SOMME 

the Warwickshire troops coming back from a 
peculiarly brilliant fight. They had won important 
trenches and endured very heavy fire for three 
days. It was difficult to pass in the trench, which 
was greasy and narrow, with few bags ; and it was 
impossible to leave it with any safety. As we 
struggled past one another and made way for one 
another, and now and then, when there was a block, 
talked with one another, I could detect no sign 
in any one of them of pride or weariness or elation. 
Knowing their record, one desired to do or say some- 
thing appreciative or congratulatory, to express 
admiration or excitement ; but the men were too 
wholly unself-conscious. They apologized for the 
difficulties of passing, and spoke of the weather as 
if the communication trench to a field of death and 
glory, strange and terrible beyond imagination, were 
the street way to daily work. 

The manner of men who are coming out or going 
in differs as much as their behaviour on the field. 
Different countries differ ; but there is a strong 
English likeness between all English troops. I 
make no invidious comparisons between soldiers 
from different parts of the Empire. They fight in 
different ways. Their virtues emerge in different 
forms. Their courage has different features 
— that is all. In possession of courage all are 
at the top. The peculiar form of English 
courage is chiefly shown, I think, in the power to 
" stick it." 

An engagement had been won on the flank of 
these Warwickshires by Sussex troops through the 
virtue of mere quiet, dutiful obstinacy. Relief 



COMING OUT 217 

could not reach them easily, and they were needed 
to make an attack over ground they knew. So 
they waited, they " stuck it " for more than a week, 
not as an achievement in itself but as a preparation 
for an attack. Their long endurance just tuned 
them up for the aggressive venture that was medi- 
tated ; and you must cultivate a vivid impression 
of what artillery fire is before you can understand 
what such patience means. No one will ever 
know what this backing of good old English 
county obstinacy has done for the success of 
our armies. 

In the particular action which followed, heroic 
deeds, though many, less impressed themselves 
on the fighters' memories than what I may call the 
idiomatic ways and behaviour of the men. " Not 
so much of your ' mercy ' and more of your ' come 
along/ " said one soldier to a trembling captive, 
as if he thought " mercy " a rather silly, affected 
literary sort of word to use. 

A sergeant, who had nothing but an empty Verey- 
light pistol, covered and cowed a German officer 
who held an automatic pistol fully loaded. The 
two men met face to face in a German trench and 
looked at one another " it seemed for a minute " 
before the German's pistol dropped and his hands 
went up, with the confession, made in perfect English, 
" Friend, I've had enough." The sergeant " stuck " 
the duel of looks the longer. 

And when it was all over, never were soldiers less 
full of rancour or bitterness than these essentially 
English troops. They are as little intoxicated at 
victory as disturbed by suffering. All words of 



218 WITH THE BRITISH ON THE SOMME 

praise and high admiration, all big words about 
heroism and patriotism, all thoughts of dramatic 
ecstasy fall to the ground before such soldiers. 
They are just English ; and the word will serve. It 
is not easy perhaps to find a better. 



CHAPTER XIII 
TANKS AND OTHER ENGINES 

THE most stirring day in all the Somme 
battle was 15th September, when that 
ingenious engine, soon familiarized into 
the Tank, was introduced — came out. It is a 
pity the Tanks were not invented in the time of 
the Little Picts. They are made for tough little 
men, who can stow themselves away anywhere. 
For the Tank in reality, as opposed to the Tank 
in fiction, is a lowly and humble monster, leav- 
ing little room for the Jonahs who inhabit him, 
and seeking the obscurity of the latest camou- 
flage. 

Their inconspicuousness served them well. 
Seldom was a weighty secret better kept. The 
enemy had only a few days' warning of the arrival 
of a " British armoured car," and for once in a 
way the general public — and indeed the army — had 
no hint of their arrival in France. It was regarded 
as the highest" privilege when some of us were 
allowed to investigate them, to enter their cribbed 
cabin and talk with the little -men, wearing their 
padded ''* leather helmets, who inhabited them. 

Even five months after their appearance their 

219 



220 WITH THE BRITISH ON THE SOMME 

finer points are still obscure to the multitude and, 
it is hoped, to the enemy. 

They enjoyed, nevertheless, a dramatic debut. 
To see a rank of these jaundiced Batrachians 
awaiting under the slope of the hill their nocturnal 
advance to the firing line, gave one the sort of 
shiver belonging to the unknown. I confess to a 
personal terror, and nursed fears that they would 
turn and rend our own people or inspire fallacious 
hopes. The fears were vain, if not wholly vain. 
The terror they inspired was wholly the enemy's 
and the humour wholly ours. 

They lay in hiding, after several nights on the 
road, some mile or so behind the line on the even- 
ing of 14th September, awaiting the great attack 
of the 15th. A gibbous moon and brilliant 
stars, shining in an almost frosty night, lit with 
fantastic shadows and crescent patches of light 
the earth-craters and parapet ridges of the bare 
highland ; and as the night yielded to the dawn, 
the colours on the backs of the monsters shifted 
like a chameleon's. How soon would the enemy 
see them ? The hands of the wrist watches were 
moving close to zero time. Soon after six the 
spasmodic barking of the night-time cannonade 
(normal in spite of its intensity) gave place to a 
"kettledrum bombardment." The "fun" was 
" fast and furious," and two minutes after the 
orchestra opened our men leaped from their 
trenches. The secret was still intact. In spite 
of the harvest moon, we had brought up a certain 
number of the " armoured cars " against which the 
Germans had been warned. " Autos blind6s " is 



TANKS AND OTHER ENGINES 221 

the French term. They looked like blind creatures 
emerging from the primeval slime. To watch one 
crawling round a battered wood in the half-light 
was to think of " the Jabberwock with eyes of 
flame " who 

1 ' Came whiffling through the tulgey wood 
And burbled as it came. " 

Though now the sun was near the edge of our 
world — just at this hour I saw the strings of 
shrapnel clouds fired against our aircraft redden at 
its touch — though moonlight and sunlight struggled 
to give distinctness to the world, the enemy ill 
distinguished the guise of these iron monsters, 
which in truth amused our men rather than en- 
couraged them. They were a jest, a cause of 
cheerfulness ; possibly faithful creatures, but no 
rival to the bayonet. 

One German officer said it was " an impertinence " 
to use them ; and some of the German soldiers 
regarded them with a sort of superstitious terror 
for the first few minutes, till daylight disclosed 
their true nature. 

Even then they were alarming enough. With 
ludicrous serenity they wobbled across the gridiron 
fields and shook themselves as if the bullets were 
flies that bit just deep enough to deserve a flick. 
Those who had inspected these saurians in their 
alfresco stalls beforehand or followed their lethargic 
course over impossible roads in the moonlight 
gasped with humorous wonder at the prodigy. 
Munchausen never approached the stories imagined 
for them by soldiers. But their pet name will 



222 WITH THE BRITISH ON THE SOMME 

always be " Tanks," and they were chiefly regarded 
as a practical joke. Whales, Boojums, Dread- 
noughts, slugs, snarks — never were creatures that 
so tempted the gift of nicknaming. They were 
said to live on trees and houses and jump like 
grasshoppers or kangaroos. 

But little real reliance was placed in them. 
The Germans had brought into warfare many 
forbidden forces — foul gases and living fire and 
the rest. We were to answer them with a British 
novelty, but one well within the rules of inter- 
national law, and demanding the highest courage 
in those who used it. The crews had the full 
pioneer spirit. The courage of the men who took 
this virgin journey in the Trojan motor-cars was 
rewarded. 

We used about forty on 15th September, the 
day when the Tank " came out," and the forty had 
twoscore of different experiences. Some one in 
the ranks made a ballad on the lines of the two 
little nigger boys of the Tanks "that progressively 
vanished ; but the ballad could not finish, because 
a number still remained. At two parts of the line 
the failure was conspicuous, but everywhere else 
points were won by their help. Three broke down 
on the right between Bouleaux Wood and Ginchy, 
and three were arrested in High Wood ; but even 
the wrecks met with adventures. The engine 
that had charge of the extreme right in Bouleaux 
Wood heeled over and lay on its side just inside 
the wood like a stranded whale. But it served 
for a body of Patroclus, a nucleus for the fight. 
British and German patrols shoved up close to 



TANKS AND OTHER ENGINES 223 

its protecting bulk and there lobbed bombs at one 
another without decisive issue. 

Much the same thing happened later in St. 
Pierre Divion, where for a while the Tank lay 
motionless in the midst of the enemy, who quite 
surrounded it. The Tank became a fort, be- 
leaguered but invincible, spitting death all the 
time. Several were among the enemy's lines 
for a considerable time, and one was entered and 
probably photographed ; but none was captured. 
The crew of one met a very heroic end. They 
came out of their machine, fought " on the floor/' 
and at the end the commanding officer was seen 
calmly dressing wounds in the midst of a con- 
centration of rifle fire. 

The Tanks did not make the success of the 
day, but they did good service. One was able to 
pursue a number of Germans some way down the 
Bapaume road, and took prisoners. Some trenches 
were enfiladed by them, and useful firing was 
recorded of a Tank which entered Flers, where 
it walked down the ex-High Street amid cheers. 

Several had dashing adventures. One appeared 
to "break into flames and smoke, but was in truth 
shaking off from its pachyderm the petty insults 
of German bombers. " We got nothing from them 
but blue sparks," said one captured machine- 
gunner of the enemy. 

The tale of individual experiences leaves imagina- 
tion aghast ; and yet the animals go about their 
daily business with so matter-of-fact an air in the 
midst of such a humorous bombing that you can 
scarcely think of them as anything but comic. 



224 WITH THE BRITISH ON THE SOMME 

In the evening a mile behind the battle one waddled 
round over the shell holes to call on a brigadier, 
just as a motor-car might stop at a front door. He 
was entitled " Cordon Rouge." His hide was 
dented all over by bullets, and his eyes had been 
several times put out. But the animal was 
entirely unmoved by a series of experiences at 
which imagination boggles. The driver had just 
come round on his way to the garage to say that 
" Barkis was willing " if and when wanted. 

All this in the midst of intermittent shell ex- 
plosions among scenes that outdo Dore's " Purga- 
tory." One which reached within 500 yards of 
Combles was hit, and could only go forward or back- 
ward. So it went forward, preferring death or 
glory : " The little Revenge ran on." Again she 
was hit and stopped. The commander still stuck 
to his ship and lay in the trough fighting successions 
of bombers and other enemies. At last, after five 
hours of this, when nothing more was to be done, 
the crew slipped out of the little side door on the 
lee side and made good their retreat with one 
casualty. The hulk lies there for days unapproach- 
able by either side, like a neighbour Tank, that 
served in its wretched state as a trench barrier, 
with Germans on one side and ourselves on the 
other. 

The Tank did not desert its humour even in the 
midst of battle. It is said to be authentic that one 
of them nosed down the street of Flers amid cheers, 
evoked especially by a notice on its side, " Great 
Hun Victory." That is the sort of humour which 
no German can understand. 



TANKS AND OTHER ENGINES 225 

Possibly the humour has been overdone. The 
Tank is a real engine of war ; and the highest, 
sternest courage was required of the men who 
boxed themselves up and, embarked on this new 
thing, sailed straight into the hottest parts of the 
fight. 

It is probable that German kite balloons saw 
them approach the previous day. It is certain 
that wherever possible guns were turned upon them. 
Some were hit by shells and the men who manned 
them killed. The crews indeed needed, as the 
ancients said, " the triple brass of courage " all the 
more for being encased in metal. At Courcellette, 
where a German battalion commander came out 
and gravely surrendered to the monster ; at Martin- 
puich, at Thiepval, at Flers, the Tanks, those 
humorous Juggernauts, won points and saved good 
British lives. 

Men followed them cheering ; and in one spot 
the deepest disappointment was caused when a 
leading Tank sheered round and appeared to lose 
heart. But she was like the " Warspite," who made 
circles in the Jutland battle. The steering gear 
was temporarily disarranged, or the shell holes 
unusually complicated ; the rather fussy, earwig- 
like wriggle of the heavy thing was enhanced for 
the moment. That was all. Soon she was on the 
forward march again, shooting like a fury ; and 
the cheers were renewed. 

In this war few great successes have been won 
by any new engine or force after the element of 
surprise was gone. The Tank is at least a possible 
exception. Doubtless on 15th September their 

15 



226 WITH THE BRITISH ON THE SOMME 

novelty added to their terrors and accentuated 
their successes ; but the engine had many subse- 
quent adventures in which it saved the life of 
friends and destroyed enemies. 

In the great September attack we were checked 
for a night by the sunken roads running into 
Gueudecourt. The village fell the next morning 
before infantry advancing in the wake of a 
Tank. 

The animal advanced on a lone venture. With 
the unerring scent of the wild beast it went straight 
for the prey. It nosed down the trench and side 
of the sunken road, spitting fire all the time, and 
either shrivelling up its prey or driving victims 
before it. After it had cleared out the worst nest 
it was still insatiable, and waddled on sniffing. 
At one place a number of enemy surrendered to it, 
tying handkerchiefs to guns in hope of catching 
the monster's attention. 

The affair of this monster seemed so interesting 
that an eagle-eyed bird of prey swooped down to 
within 400 feet to join in the sport ; and the rattle 
of the airman's Lewis was added to the Tank's 
machine-guns. But the aeroplane left the beast 
to its final triumph. Tired and hot and a little 
lame, it rested for a while from its labours. At once 
all its enemies in the neighbourhood, and they were 
legion, swarmed round it and attacked it as the 
Lilliputians attacked Gulliver. They threw their 
petty bombs at it, they swarmed on to its back and 
fired rifles absurdly at supposed chinks and cracks 
in its hide. 

AH the while spits of fire issued from the monster's 



TANKS AND OTHER ENGINES 227 

side and front, and Germans lay dead and wounded 
like wolves before a stag at bay. Perhaps the little 
men would have won in the end. I do not know. 
But the beast's friends, our infantry, had now come 
up. The enemy fled ; but many score lay dead and 
wounded round it. A little later in the morning 
Gueudecourt was ours. 

Tanks and their crews played a useful, if not 
vital, part in the engagements which led six weeks 
later to the complete capture of that 40-acre plot 
of monastic vaults and rubble which is called Eau- 
court TAbbaye. It was defended by the trench 
system composing the old German third line, which 
we took everywhere except at a point south of 
Eaucourt. Here the wire was uncut, and our 
attacking troops lay down in the open in front of 
the wire, throwing and receiving bombs. 

Mills bombs and egg bombs made rival festoons 
in the air over the wire. It was a duel in which 
the German was likely to get the better of the 
exchange, as he had a good trench and we had not. 
Happily, at this juncture intervened, as in the 
play, " the god from the machine." Some Tanks 
squirmed out from their lairs behind a copse on 
the left, and slugged forward almost in Indian file. 
They crossed the German trenches, and imme- 
diately nosed along them as if they had struck a 
scent trail, making mincemeat of all obstruction. 

One of the machines " absolutely ate up the wire," 
as a soldier said, and, in spite of every kind of 
fire, continued its solemn course. The infantry 
crossed in its wake, some occupying the trench, 
some pushing through and past the buildings to a 



228 WITH THE BRITISH ON THE SOMME 

trench line which they fortified beyond on the north. 
The Tank could not go on for ever. Bogged and 
out of breath, it came to a stop in an impassable 
pit, with a half of the trench still uncleared. 

The crew escaped and had strange experiences. 
One wounded officer took refuge in a shell hole 
well within reach of German bombers. Three of 
his companions refused to leave him, while a fourth 
went for help. After a strange journey he dragged 
himself to headquarters with his last ounce of bodily 
and mental strength, too exhausted even to give 
any clear account of the exact whereabouts of the 
shell hole. But his information was of value, and 
after some rest he himself set off again with others 
and rediscovered the true bearings. 

Later again, though none was used in the first 
advance, a Tank was used with effect in the reduc- 
tion of a redoubt in front of Beaumont- Hamel. 
The success was not altogether legitimate, perhaps, 
for it was won after the engine became motionless ; 
and yet it is the highest compliment to say that 
it is most dangerous when at bay, and, like Mr. 
Kipling's Fuzzy Wuzzy, is " generally shamming 
when it's dead." 

Some form of the Tank is probably a permanent 
engine of war. It was tried in conditions incom- 
parably worse than any ever imagined. Its crews 
were necessarily amateurs, [and infantry com- 
manders exist who cannot speak with patience 
of it. They are mostly men who fought in the 
woods, where the combination of shell hole and tree 
was insuperable. Nevertheless, the Tank — lowly, 
heavy, obscure, slow, noisy, variable ; — plods on, and 



TANKS AND OTHER ENGINES 229 

will remain a high tribute to British mechanical 
skill. 

We answered in mechanics to the enemy's chemi- 
cal innovations. Doubtless the Germans are good 
chemists ; but there is no novelty in any of the 
chemical devices used in this war. The chlorine 
gases were known to be deadly and heavy, and 
their use in war was new only because the world 
had decided that they were too inhuman. Higher 
ingenuity was shown in the gas shell, which com- 
pletely ousted cylinder gas in the Somme battle. 
Towards the end of July the Germans produced a 
quite new shell. It acted differently and contained a 
new gas. At one place they poured these shells over 
in thousands. Just over five thousand fell on an 
acre or two near the point of junction of the French 
and British armies one afternoon. These shells 
burst almost without noise. They were at first 
supposed to be " duds." The cap just rolled off, 
and a gas not strong in scent, nor obvious to the 
eyes, oozed out. Its effect was not instantaneous ; 
the victim was indeed not aware that he was gassed 
till several hours afterwards, when he collapsed 
suddenly. But only a very full breath was deadly ; 
and when men became aware of the nature of the 
shell, little harm was done. 

U ~Yet the gas shell has been used more and more. 
The enemy shot hundreds every night of the Somme 
battle, and the French became great experts in 
their use. Some of the most desperate attacks, 
such as the storming of Pozi&res, were delivered by 
masked men, volubly X cursing the necessity of 
charging in a half -blind state. Every rood of the 



230 WITH THE BRITISH ON THE SOMME 

battle-field is littered with masks, German and 
British ; and every trench and even remote billets 
are ornamented with gongs for giving the gas alarm. 
One of the best series of photographs taken in the 
course of the battle was spoiled because a sentry- 
rushed into the dark room where they were being 
developed, with an alarm of gas, caused by a single 
shell. 

The " tear " or lachrymatory gas shell is used by 
the enemy chiefly with the object of damping down a 
troublesome battery for the time being. It has had 
the desired effect on occasion ; and the fumes will 
make the eyes tingle several hours after the shell 
has exploded. The paraphernalia of helmets has 
added to the cost and burden of fighting ; and 
doubtless in any future wars, if such must be, gas 
shells will be employed for this reason alone. But 
whether they do as much harm as high explosives 
and shrapnel is by no means clear ; though doubt- 
less an attacking force compelled to use masks 
is by reason of the mask a much less efficient 
fighter. 

The enemy is proud of having invented the 
" Flammenwerfer," or flame-thrower, though his 
instruments are less good than ours ; and they 
have been used more and more, sometimes with 
effect. Our artillery destroyed several in High 
Wood, before the great attack. But the flame is 
not effective against men who have gone to ground, 
and its utmost limit of reach is about ioo yards. 
For this reason it should be more effective in defence 
than in attack. But the logic of these things 
disappears before the intensity of high-explosive 



TANKS AND OTHER ENGINES 231 

shells. Engines of all sorts are destroyed or 
buried or put out of action ; and many an engine 
is only useful when it can be wielded in comparative 
serenity and with due preparation. 

Yet flame and heat as against explosive is a 
developing principle. We have ilame shells which 
can scorch to ashes anything within their range, 
and the Germans use flame balls of many sorts 
and sizes to attack aeroplanes. During the course 
of the Somme battle the old incendiary shell was 
improved and developed beyond recognition. 

The stimulus to invention has been one of the 
most obvious effects of the war. All engines of de- 
struction have improved, notably the automatic rifle 
— now capable of holding clips of twenty and more 
cartridge — with its telescopic and periscopic sights. 
The aeroplane has become almost a safe chariot. 
Even miners have discovered new tools. Edison 
was said to have wept at the sight of the waste of 
power in the waves and tides of the sea. It needs 
no such scientific imagination and emotion as his 
to weep for the waste of energy in the war. Such 
mental, such muscular, such material output might 
have saved Europe from the curse of poverty and 
left blessings to accumulate at compound interest 
for the peoples yet to be. Instead it has pashed 
out good and useful and happy lives in millions, 
destroyed the wealth and beauty of tens of thou- 
sands of homes, and so devastated many fair acres 
that they will never again produce food in the time 
of this generation. 

So thick is the whole field with unexploded 
bombs and shells that no ploughman's life will 



232 WITH THE BRITISH ON THE SOMME 

be safe for years. Already peasants who have 
attempted to light a wood fire near the site of their 
vanished homes have been blown to atoms. 

Such is the fruit of material Kultur unsweetened 
by the breath of spiritual hope. 



CHAPTER XIV 
THROUGH PRISONERS' EYES 

IN a pleasant chateau behind the front were 
housed during a great part of the Somme 
battle the staff of one of the corps most 
actively engaged. On the grass beside a flam- 
ing rose-bed stood a line of the absurdest instru- 
ments to which garden ever gave entertainment. 
They were the spoil of the right, a battery of 
the most primitive trench mortars conceivable. 
Mechanism they had none. They were no more 
than long tubes about 10 inches in width bound 
outside with coiled wire and lined inside, over 
the lowest third of their circle, with thin iron plates. 
They threw just lumps of explosive from a range 
of about 200 yards, and were useful enough for 
destroying earthworks and trenches. I measured 
one hole made by them just behind a Kemmel 
earthwork as 19 feet. These mortars were the only 
obvious signs of the neighbourhood of war, though 
we were close behind the line. 

The interior of the chateau, on the other hand, 
was all war. In every room officers were busy 
with maps : one piecing together air-photographs ; 

another drawing blue, red, and green lines — the 

233 



284 WITH THE BRITISH ON THE SOMME 

sequent objectives of the next attack. Another 
was collating a mass of German letters and post 
cards and note -books. This last one asked if I 
would do something for him. Would I carry three 
baskets of carrier pigeons up to " the advanced 
cage " ? The intelligence officer provided me with 
three basketsful, which were piled on the car. 
Hurrying away with the burden, I was met some 
miles away by an officer, entirely unknown to me, 
who signalled violently and stopped his car and 
mine. Then he introduced himself as " Officer 
Commanding pigeons " ; and " O.C. pigeons ' 
is a proud position. Pigeons have been at least 
as successful as any other means of communica- 
tion. They are trustworthy, quick, and authentic. 
They have won many fights and saved many defeats. 
Quite a number of the birds from first to last have 
been killed by shrapnel — three fell almost together 
at the battle of Loos — but over all the field the 
percentage is minute ; and you may rely on nine 
out of ten pigeons finding their way home. 

The pigeon specialists are a group of importance, 
and have this point of pre-eminence that they give 
the letter postmen more trouble than all the rest of 
the army put together. But the army post office 
is a most determined agency, and though it costs 
a ton of motor-cycle oil, they hunt down these 
vagrant pigeon men till they find them, and reduce 
to the minimum the tale of undelivered letters. 

One humorous and quite true tale of the pigeon 
has gone the rounds and appeared as fiction in 
" Punch " with some altered details. A colonial 
soldier carried one of the baskets all through an 



THROUGH PRISONERS' EYES 235 

engagement, but was not called upon to " enlarge* ' 
his birds. Being a wise man he did not see the 
necessity of carrying the burden home, so he released 
the birds after attaching a short note to one. The 
belief is that at the headquarters the staff were 
thirsty for authentic news. So eager were they 
that when the pigeon appeared the general ordered 
it to be shot if it did not at once return to 
hand. When finally the bird delivered its message, 
excitement grew intense. The general unrolled 
the slip, and while others craned their necks to see, 
he spelled out with trouble this message : " I'm fed 

up with carrying this bird ! " 

The pigeons I carried were judged by the O.C. 
to be well-kept birds and carefully tended, so we 
took them on to the advanced cage. It swarmed 
with Prussians. They stood and sat and lay behind 
the walls of barbed wire, busy with a score of 
domestic occupations. Some had pulled off their 
shirts and were hunting industriously for the lice 
that infest the clothing of almost all soldiers who 
live for any length of time in the trenches. Some 
were scraping off mud with bits of apple-twig plucked 
from the trees among which they were caged. In 
one compartment the new-comers were devouring 
bully beef and biscuits wolfishly and with hurried 
gusto. Two officers stood dour and fierce in a 
wired room by themselves. A dozen or so had 
been taken from the cages and were sitting in a 
row undergoing in turn inspection from a doctor. 
Two were being interrogated by interpreters who 
looked more fagged than the prisoners, for the 
stream had been continuous and each group must 



236 WITH THE BRITISH ON THE SOMME 

be moved on quickly to make room for the rest 
that were momently expected. The prisoners never 
rest in the cages, but are moved back to more 
luxurious spots as quickly almost as our own 
wounded. 

I have met prisoners coming back from the battle 
in every guise and temper, and their groups 
remain in the mind as the vividest evidence of 
battle, the most palpable symbol of defeat. On the 
slope below Thiepval I saw them leap from their 
trenches with hands up and, before there was 
full time to accept the surrender, run in panic 
down the hill to our lines through the random 
German shells. One group, hustling across the 
valley below me, was quite blotted out by a shell, 
and a single man afterwards killed by a naval 
shell nearly ten miles behind the lines. As a rule 
they recover cheerfulness as soon as they swallow 
the first drop of water, and again and again express 
their utter pleasure to be safe out of the battle. 
The cheerfullest of all the prisoners' faces that come 
back to me was a fair, round, smiling countenance 
of a corporal who belonged to a pioneer battalion, 
captured in Flanders. He^was one of the last to 
scramble into a lorry that was taking them out of 
shell range, and his feelings overcame him. He 
put his head round the canvas at the back of the 
van, waved a sandbag which he had converted 
into a hat and shouted, " Off to the best city in the 
world — London," and his intonation was almost 
Cockney. 

This man's sergeant was cheerful from a different 
reason. He argued with charming logic that the 



THROUGH PRISONERS' EYES 237 

war would soon be over. " You see/' he said, 
" we shall take Verdun, though it cost us 300,000 
men, and then the French will be broken and you 
will have to give in or take a beating, whichever 
you like." 

Among soldier prisoners rancour or resentment is 
as rare as it is common among officers ; and our 
own men, even the conductors, seldom keep up any 
pretension of hate. More commonly they treat 
the prisoner as they would a favourite dog. After 
one very bitter engagement I met two wounded 
men hobbling back, one a Cockney, the other a 
Bavarian. " Wherever I goes Fritz goes, don't 
you, Bill ? " he said ; and now and again he gave 
Bill Fritz two or three puffs of his cigarette, holding 
it carefully while the German pulled. This utter 
failure of resentment in face of the sight of a 
single human being is common to most of us; 
perhaps. 

In the first month of the war I walked to a Paris 
hospital with a famous civilian who breathed a 
doctrine of blood and thunder against the brutes 
who had disturbed the world's peace. He spoke 
forcibly an excellent doctrine, and went even to 
the length of preaching hard treatment of prisoners. 
In the first ward we visited happened to be one 
wounded German, and my companion spoke as 
kindly to him as to the rest. He spent, I think, a 
little longer at his bedside ; and I know he pre- 
sented him, and him only, with a large and costly 
cigar. As a race we are not good at hating men 
and women, and in this part of war at any rate 
must frankly acknowledge German superiority. 



238 WITH THE BRITISH ON THE SOMME 

Even on the battle-field itself, or just behind it, 
many soldier prisoners achieve a certain look of 
satisfaction. They are alive — against all proba- 
bilities ; and they are thankful. Nevertheless, 
no episode in war can on occasion touch a higher 
note of tragedy. On the 3rd of July, as I was 
pushing up the road through Fricourt village, a 
north-country soldier was bringing down a mad 
German soldier of the 111th Regiment whom he 
had captured in a redoubt at the corner of the 
wood, and the sight is not uncommon. In every 
battle there are men, both from victors and van- 
quished, who go mad, with one form or another of 
the malady. One of our N.C.O.'s, who had fought 
gloriously at Loos, and had returned to safety, 
suddenly seized a rifle, fixed the bayonet, attempted 
to stab a neighbour, and then ran as fast as he 
could travel straight for the German trenches. 

That day in Fricourt I saw something worse 
than madness, unless it was, after all, madness. 
A German Hauptman, stiff, erect, obstinate, but 
with a strange look in his eyes, marched down 
the road in front of his captor. As I moved a 
step nearer to read the number on the shoulder 
strap, the German started with a sudden nervous- 
ness curiously contradictory to his general bearing. 
He was bareheaded, but otherwise more neat and 
clean than the prisoner often is. Afterwards, I 
learned that the hatlessness betrayed the tragedy 
behind his obvious terror. He had surrendered, 
but had first hidden a bomb in his cap, and as 
two British officers came up to interrogate him 
he threw the bomb between them. No wonder 



THROUGH PRISONERS' EYES 239 

he was afraid. It was amazing that he had lived 
so long. 

How very different were the bearing and actions 
of the German captives met in a similar place on 
a similar day a fortnight later. At 3.30 in the 
morning of 14th July we sprang at the German 
second line and took it by storm. We captured 
Bazentin le Petit, Bazentin le Grand, Longueval, 
a part of Delville Wood, and the land between 
them. In tactics no victory surpassed it, and the 
rush was so quick that numbers of prisoners 
began to filter back within an hour or two. 
For the first time in the war they were turned to 
real use, and a squad of forty or fifty volunteers 
offered to bear back wounded, German or 
British, as might be. They carried the majority 
across the little valley and up the winding road 
to Mametz village. Such a scene as this strange 
tryst I had never seen. Three roads meet near 
the crown of the hill, and in the wide space at their 
meeting-point a great crowd was gathering. The 
hill-road was hastily botched by hurried menders. 
They poured brick rubble into the shell holes, 
filled up the trench at the side, tossing into it bits 
of dead horses and the refuse of the battle. Through 
them swayed and grunted the Red Cross lorries 
whose terminus was this Trivia in the village. 

Desolation at its highest power encircled the 
place. Roadmen were hacking down any bit of 
brick wall that was left. Blackened beams, tiles, 
weapons, and intolerable flotsam of rubbish covered 
the site of every village home ; and in the very 
centre of the whirlpool assembled and multiplied 



240 WITH THE BRITISH ON THE SOMME 

our wounded soldiers. They sat and lay and 
stood — chaffing, talking, groaning, silent. Blood 
soaked their clothes and disguised their faces and 
mixed with the mud on their thighs. But most 
were " walking cases.' ' Sometimes the walk was 
a crawl or a hop, helped by a pair of friends almost 
as halt as the man they helped. It was my duty 
to walk farther, and see the country beyond, where 
the righting was. I had gone not 200 yards farther 
round the left-hand road and over the shoulder 
of the hill when I met a line of Bavarians, looking 
like a funeral procession. They tramped slowly 
into view in groups of six, each six carrying a 
stretcher. They were mingled anyhow with pur 
own wounded, with messengers going forward and 
messengers coming back ; but they had the appear- 
ance of some solid thing among fugitive things : 
a barge plodding down a river, or a hearse in a 
busy street. They did their business very well — 
slowly, methodically, carefully, silently. "It is 
better than fighting," they said and felt. They 
were leaving danger behind. They were under 
orders. They were promised beef and biscuit 
and drink. 

Suddenly every man ceased to be a soldier. 
The counterfeit presentment broke up like the 
model of the clown in the old transformation scene. 
Militarism fell from them the moment they walked 
in uneven order. The house of cards collapsed. 
A battalion became a group of individuals : the 
peasants were peasants again, the professors pro- 
fessors. Some thought of beef, some of philosophy. 
" I prefer your bully," said one rough fellow ; but 



THROUGH PRISONERS' EYES 241 

the schoolmaster began a disquisition. " The 
directors of Germany have invested our money 
in a venture which has somewhat of the appear- 
ance of a gamble ; but it is impossible to get our 
money out, and we must support the directorship 
so long as there is a chance of saving the capital. 
If that is lost, we shall institute an inquiry, and 
depose the directors, perhaps imprison them." 

The doctor only spoke of the madness of the 
world and the sanctity of the human body. A 
natural philosopher said, with the first touch of 
humour, that he was "going to try to like the 
English." 

All this was after they had trapesed off the 
field and collected in groups in a square of barbed 
wire. They might have been monkeys ; but they 
were at least on the way to become men. 

Very early in the war cool observers described 
the prisoners as inferior, as depressed, as showing 
signs of demoralization — and the verdict was seldom 
justified. The truth is, it is very hard to judge a 
large group of men. As a rule they are covered 
with mud and have just come through trials severe 
and various enough to destroy sensation. Some- 
times they have been quite cut off from food and 
drink for many hours. Men, even tough soldiers, 
do not look their best at such times. 

An observer in the position of a war correspondent, 
who travels daily across a stretch of ten or fifteen 
miles before reaching the front, sees prisoners almost 
every day. I have seen thousands in all parts of 
the field since the Somme opened, and many score 
in the previous six months. Their quality pro- 
16 



242 WITH THE BRITISH ON THE SOMME 

gressively depreciates. Of that there can be no 
question. The worst in physique were the men 
taken at and round Beaumont-Hamel on 13th 
November. 

Our men actually pitied them for their deep 
dugouts, and seemed to regret that these did 
not permit the poor fellows to get out in time to 
fight with the bayonet. You could almost infer 
the same fact from the mere spectacle of the 
prisoners. I met a thousand or so of them on their 
way back to the " cages ' shepherded by little 
groups of King Edward's Horse, and could see in 
them small sign of battle. They were comparatively 
clean, and looked curiously white, as if they had 
seen little sunshine or even daylight. It is,, indeed, 
literally true that dugout existence, coupled with 
the fear of movement by day, has bleached a great 
part of the German army. 

i But many of these troops were not of the most 
lusty sort. They were largely Silesians, old soldiers, 
but composing one of the newer divisions pieced 
together out of the superfluity of old divisions. The 
shoulder straps on the groups that passed me 
denoted the 55th, 62nd, 2nd, 68th, and 23rd Regi- 
ments. 

Though not perhaps the keenest soldiers, they 
had some excuse for their too easy surrender. 
In parts of the line the enemy were certainly taken 
by surprise — by the sudden completeness of the 
barrage and the dash of our troops — and little fight 
was left in them. Our men went rather quicker 
than usual, in spite of the mud. Some waves 
hurried straight over the first three trenches, which 



THROUGH PRISONERS' EYES 243 

they found pulped into shapelessness by our fire, 
and even before they reached the fourth a long string 
of Germans came filing out towards them with 
hands in air. Certain groups among them exhibited 
a humorous docility and humane readiness to assist 
their captors. For example, a Red Cross corporal, 
armed only with a stick, at once, unasked, drilled a 
group of nine of his infantry into stretcher-bearers 
and set them to work in the middle of the fight. 
They did their journey without loss, for happily 
the enemy's shelling was not severe ; and the 
machine-guns at this place were mostly silent. 

A few days earlier a large group were taken on 
the southern side of the Ancre, from a trench on the 
highland known as Regina. In spite of an order 
against the use of slang in official messages, the exact 
wording of the first message that reached Divisional 
Headquarters was : " Prisoners much fed up." It 
did not mean that they had over-eaten. The 
description was true, beyond all question. I met 
many of them on their way to be interrogated. 
They were of all sorts : Prussian Guards and Saxons. 
The first — a Red Cross man with a broken arm- 
made a fine figure. The next was as pitiable a 
creature as you could find : about 5 ft. 2 in. in height, 
very unlovely in feature, shuffling in gait, and wear- 
ing immensely strong spectacles. Face and clothes 
were smeared all over with chalky mud. The third 
was a pleasant-looking Saxon, wounded above the 
ankle by a bomb. 

Some of the prisoners (whom I only half believed 
as men too severely shaken to be accurate) wailed 
astounding stories of the ruin wrought by our 



244 WITH THE BRITISH ON THE SOMME 

artillery. Twenty-four companies, they said, had 
been totally wrecked. The exaggeration — if it 
was an exaggeration — was permissible ; for our own 
men engaged in the attack agreed with observers 
behind it that it was the " prettiest " barrage they 
had worked with, intense, accurate, dashing, an 
excellent barrage to give a lead over the fence. 
One of this group, using the childlike idiom 
common among people much shaken by fear, said, 
" When I threw up my hands and called out, ' Good, 
kind enemy, mercy, mercy ! ' your men stopped 
throwing bombs, and one patted me on the shoulder 
and told me to go home to your lines." In the 
previous action in the same area a Canadian soldier 
told me that he had seen only one German really 
fight — a man already lying seriously wounded, who, 
pretending incompetence, threw a bomb at the head 
of the officer who came up to succour him. 

It was not to be inferred from such examples 
that the enemy was fighting badly. The only part 
of the fighting at which he does not, as a rule, excel 
is the hand-to-hand ; and when he curls up he 
curls up completely. It was so in this engagement. 
Fifty un wounded prisoners who came back in one 
group were quite frankly delighted at their fate. 

Perhaps the sight of prisoners, especially the 
soldiers' experience of cowering men creeping from 
dugouts, gives an exaggerated sense of the captors' 
superiority. No creature is more abject than a 
frightened captive. One man in Guillemont ap- 
peared on his knees at the mouth of a dugout, 
holding out in his arms all that he could collect of 
any value — watches, soda-water, bread, bayonets, 



THROUGH PRISONERS' EYES 245 

cigars, bits of kit — begging the men who came up 
to spare his life. In another case the inmate of a 
dugout was so nervous that he did not know how 
to surrender. He kept waggling his hands outside 
the dugout, muttering " Kamerad," and then 
retiring precipitately like a hermit crab. By the 
time an assurance of safety was conveyed to his 
intelligence he had become quite exhausted by his 
gymnastics. The division which showed the 
greatest demoralization on this occasion had just 
come down from Armentieres, where dugouts had 
been deep and life easy. The change to the Somme 
was too hard for them. 

Such state of terror sometimes continues for a 
long while. Prisoners taken behind Ginchy came 
back weeping bitterly and thoroughly cowed ; but 
both the tears and the depression were produced 
objectively, not, as I first thought, by a craven 
spirit. The scarred woods, desolate villages, and 
honeycombed fields reeked of gas fumes, through 
which the queues and groups of prisoners trapesed, 
wiping their eyes. In a desperate attempt to arrest 
the fire of our guns and temporarily to check the 
march of the supports, tear shells had been plenti- 
fully rained over the country-side. Some of these 
prisoners had tasted both varieties of gas — ours and 
their own — within an hour or so, and could do 
nothing else than weep. 

One man I spoke with — a Bavarian, whose unit 
had fought well — had been driven by gas and 
explosives out of his trenches into the hospitality 
of No Man's Land and its genial shell holes. There 
he was cut off by a patrol and presently marched 



246 WITH THE BRITISH ON THE SOMME 

back through the sugary fumes of German weeping 
gas. He tasted indeed the full savour of war 
between the hours of four and six that day ; and 
yet knew little of the sort of battle in which he 
had fought, for he was captured early at the very 
fringe of the battle front. 

Almost always the men who have once surrendered 
are amenable and docile ; though mutinies have 
been known. One large group in Courcellette, 
discovering that they outnumbered their captors, 
made one tentative effort to escape, and in Thiepval 
a group of sixteen prisoners, several of whom had 
concealed bombs, turned on their two conductors 
and wounded them. Happily the conductors were 
saved from death by a support that was coming 
up, and the survivors of the sixteen prisoners were 
rounded up. 

When they reach the cages the men speak readily 
and evince no sulkiness, in abrupt contrast with 
their officers. If turned to work, they work well. 
Never did I see quicker and more thorough and, it 
appeared, more congenial work than the manufacture 
of a prisoners' camp by prisoners. Every man 
seemed a technical specialist — a builder, a decorator, 
a plumber, a landscape gardener — and the group 
converted a bare patch of stubble into a most habit- 
able camp, with good buildings and neat pathways, 
within the space of two days. 

Nothing in the fighting so advertised to British 
eyes the secret of German success as the organized 
completeness of this domestic work. What madness 
turned such constructive workers, who had the 
world at their feet, to destructive warriors ! 



THROUGH PRISONERS' EYES 247 

We had taken between ist July and 16th November 
over 30,000 prisoners, among them many picked 
troops. The biggest haul was on the last days; 
and for me the most impressive sense of victory 
was the sight after the capture of Thiepval of a 
group of 500 or 600 Prussians who were marched 
by Midland soldiers into the army corps cages. 
Big, fine men, well skilled in war, nursed in the 
traditions of a famous regiment, " ribbed and pal&d 
in " among fortifications of a two years' growth, 
these companies of the 29th Prussian Regiment 
deemed themselves impregnable. 

I see them there marching captives from the 
mud of battle as a symbol of Prussian militarism 
and its coming fall. Were they not captured, and 
more than as many like them killed, by Territorial 
" amateurs " and new artillery — and almost with 
impunity, though they fought hard ? Their soldierly 
qualities and stubborn righting spirit were to me 
a stronger proof of the turn of the tide than the 
nice, quiet, comfortable handful of ten Saxons 
who surrendered without prompting a day earlier 
and were quoted everywhere as a proof of the 
demoralized spirit of the men. Victory is a positive, 
not a negative, achievement. 

A distinction exists between the prisoner and the 
deserter, though on occasion such was the confusion 
of the righting it was not always easy to tell which 
was which. In the neighbourhood of Warlencourt 
one group of Germans (who may be called deserters 
or prisoners, as you please) took the risk of coming 
over to our trenches with their hands up. They 
were immediately threatened by one of their own 



248 WITH THE BRITISH ON THE SOMME 

machine-guns, lifted on to the parapet with intent 
to wipe them out. Happily the position was seized 
by our observers, who immediately opened a 
machine-gun barrage to protect the Germans, and 
keep down the heads of their own cannibalistic 
snipers and machine-gunners. Under this kindly 
curtain let fall by their enemies the Germans made 
their way to the refuge of British trenches. 

One most human incident issued from this pro- 
ceeding. In the trench to which these prisoners 
were hurried was a dugout used for a dressing- 
station, and in it was lying a wounded German, 
with difficulty rescued by our stretcher-bearers the 
day before. By one of the strange coincidences 
of war, he proved to be the brother of one of the 
prisoners. The new-comer was quite overcome by 
the meeting. He embraced his brother again and 
again, stroked his hair, and, almost sobbing, re- 
peated again and again, " We thought you were 
dead." 

The meeting added the last touch to the delight 
of the prisoners in escaping from the war. Never 
was a group happier. As some of them swung 
their hilarious way through Mametz Wood home- 
ward — if one may use the word — they laughed 
and hummed songs like a party of trippers. One 
man was anxious to know whether he might be 
allowed to visit " his friends in Newcastle." " It 
is a lovely city," he said. 

Three times at any rate during the Somme fighting 
Germans were met strolling behind our lines ; and 
the question was never settled whether they had 
missed their way, escaped from a prisoners' batch, 



THROUGH PRISONERS' EYES 249 

or deserted. In one case five men were accompanied 
by a dog. 

Deserters have at no time been numerous, as 
numbers go in this war, but groups of twenty have 
come over ; and after the Somme battle was over, 
the trickle was quite constant. Like all deserters, 
the men talked to distraction. One may say that 
prisoners always tell less than the truth and 
deserters always more. Especially do they enlarge 
on their own hardships. 

Throughout the battle of the Somme I saw almost 
daily letters written by Germans, both soldiers and 
civilians. Many official documents were captured. 
Prisoners and deserters talked freely. By these 
means and others we had continual glimpses of the 
German state of mind during the whole of the 
period. 

The German, though he has sloughed off much 
of the sentimentality for which he was once famous, 
is still a being who delights to enlarge on his personal 
feelings, to pour forth his soul in letters. The High 
Command, realizing that the habit was dangerous, 
proposed to prevent letter- writing of any effusive 
nature ; but they found that the valve was necessary 
to the soldier. Without such emotional outlet he 
lost heart and what is called moral. He was less 
happy, less courageous. So the postal system was 
increased and improved. Twice we took trenches 
immediately after the arrival of the parcel post, and 
our soldiers much enjoyed the food of which most 
parcels consisted. 

At every prisoners' cage stacks of letters and post 
cards were collated, though everything else was 



250 WITH THE BRITISH ON THE SOMME 

given back to the men. Nothing in their treatment 
pleased them more. I heard men pouring out 
voluble thanks for permission to keep photographs 
of the fair faces carried in their inner pockets. 

The letters undoubtedly showed a progressive 
decline in the spirit of the men. Some prisoners 
taken as early as ist July complained bitterly of 
their plight and the difficulty of getting food and 
water through perpetual curtain fire ; but within 
the German ranks at that time was a strong feeling 
that they were winning by mere resistance the final 
battle of the war. This confidence did not survive 
the attack of 14th July, when the second line fell, 
by Bazentin. 

After this period scores of letters complained in 
grim and sarcastic terms of the inferiority of German - 
airmen. They wear iron crosses, they sit in the 
front stalls of the theatre at Lille, they claim the 
affections of all the beautiful ladies ; but when 
Mr. Englishman comes along, they are off like a 
streak. Such was the burden of many a soldier's 
diary. At the same time, their fear of British 
airmen was almost superstitious. They described 
the crouching dread of every man and motor while 
daylight lasted. One man wrote to say that soon 
the Englishmen would swoop down and pull them 
out of their holes by the scruff of the neck. 

As the time went on, the continual shelling more 
and more affected men's nerves. They were 
bombed in trains fifty miles behind the line. They 
were shelled in billets, they were shelled in support 
and relief and all along the lines of march, so that 
some units reached the front trench shorn of half 



THROUGH PRISONERS' EYES 251 

their strength. They had great regard for their 
own artillery, as anyone must who has seen it at 
work ; but there were certain " regrettable in- 
stances." Something very near a mutiny was 
caused by the immense losses in two battalions 
shelled by mistake. So bitter was the feeling that 
the High Command sent round a printed apology 
with a promise that " it should not occur again." 

As the battle proceeded, the belief that Germany 
could win, clean vanished. The optimists thought 
that Germany could hold what she had won, and 
could so force an honourable peace ; but the spirit 
of attack died out. Very fine counter-attacks were 
delivered at places, and not without success in some 
of the woods ; but in the open none was carried 
through till picked battalions of the Guards were 
put in opposite Warlencourt at the end of October. 
The generals strove by speech and written orders to 
restore the offensive spirit. A German general's 
order of the day, taken in a November battle, 
urged the troops to stand firm by the promise of 
revenge. " We will see to it that we exterminate 
the British and French armies by such a hell as they 
have themselves created." But his promise also 
confesses his plight, acknowledges the hell. 

It was not only the bursting shell and fear of attack 
that the enemy had to endure. The sights of the 
battle-field weaken men's fibre even more than the 
sounds. At an earlier date in the battle a German 
soldier wrote as follows : 

94 Trenches quite fallen in. . . . Dead and buried 
were to be seen in masses in and out of the trenches. 
, . . Six or eight men were lying near piled one on the 



252 WITH THE BRITISH ON THE SOMME 

top of the other. On the way to our 6th Company, 
which we found after a search of two and a half 
hours, there were just as many corpses and men 
buried by shells and men who had not been properly 
buried. We saw terrible sights." 

The worst passages are omitted, but this is enough 
to hint what the enemy's soldiers endured, and the 
battle-field reveals acres of such spectacles. A 
number of men have not been able to endure it. 
Almost all — men, not officers — are glad to be 
prisoners. But the alleged German demoralization 
is physical, and the body recovers. When we 
relaxed, the enemy recovered quickly. 

In the adv&ce along the Ancre considerable 
groups were quite dazed. In one trench in a sunken 
road between three hundred and four hundred men 
gave themselves up to sixteen men, who were accom- 
panied by a padre. Almost immediately that he 
saw the smallness of the party the chief officer 
shouted an order to recover weapons and attack. 
But when he was shot by one of the soldiers the 
" mutiny " was immediately quelled, and the rest 
marched away as obediently as if they were under 
their own officers. 

No man can endure a continuance of heavy fire. 
One rather attractive German of good physique and 
lively spirit, taken in November, apologized to his 
captors for his easy surrender. " What were we to 
do ? " he said in effect. ■' The barrage came down 
like a storm in the mountains. You could not see 
or hear, and then while we were blind and deaf the 
English bombs began to burst in the ravine through 
the mud and dust and smoke." 



THROUGH PRISONERS' EYES 253 

I tried by observation and inquiry at every part 
of the line to test without prejudice the question 
whether or not the German garrisons, at such places 
as Beaumont-Hamel, surrendered with the readiness 
of a demoralized force. Many of our own men came 
from the battle persuaded that the enemy was done 
for, but when all was known it was clear that the 
victory was due wholly to the violence of the attack : 
not at all to the lack of spirit in the enemy. In- 
stances there are, of course, of despair and cowardice. 
Out of twenty prisoners amassed by one unit ten 
were mere deserters — and they came from a regiment 
of high reputation. They had been hardly tried, 
and a third bout of the battle of the Somme was 
more than their spirit could endure. If men are not 
relieved often enough and for a long enough time the 
best regiments become the worst supposing that artil- 
lery fire is constant. And the Germans are but men. 

Only once did the German officers evince disgust 
with their own organization. Soon after the capture 
of Contalmaison fresh troops were thrown into the 
tangled open country north-west of the village, 
without proper instructions and without maps. 
What they said of their superior staff would not 
have disgraced a regimental dugout in British 
trenches at the second battle of Ypres. 

The German officer keeps a stiff upper lip. But 
we had progressive evidence in plenty that he was 
appreciating more and more keenly the courage 
and skill of his opponents. He knew before July 
was out that he had grossly underrated our military 
quality. The most precise evidence was supplied 
by a general of fame. 



254 WITH THE BRITISH ON THE SOMME 

General Sixt von Armin, commanding the 4th 
German Corps, wrote in the early weeks of August 
a report of about 15,000 words in length on the 
battle of the Somme and the lessons to be drawn 
from it. He covers the whole field of criticism, 
discussing methods of attack, of defence, of com- 
missariat, of discipline, on the German side and 
incidentally on ours. 

It is a thorough, sober military document, but 
packed with small, interesting details outside the 
field of tactics, throwing much light on the hap- 
hazard confessions of many prisoners. A dis- 
cussion of the quality of our army was given pride 
of place. The first paragraph of all dealt with our 
infantry. The document was called : 

Experiences of the IV. German Corps in the 
Battle of the Somme during July 1916 

Under the heading " English tactics," Von 
Armin wrote : 

" The English infantry has undoubtedly learnt 
much since the autumn offensive. It shows great 
dash in the attack, a factor to which immense 
confidence in its overwhelming artillery probably 
greatly contributes. The Englishman has also 
his physique and training in his favour. Com- 
manders, however, in difficult situations showed 
that they were not yet equal to their tasks. The 
men lost their heads, and surrendered if they thought 
they were cut off. 

" It was most striking how the enemy assembled 
and brought up large bodies of troops in close 



THROUGH PRISONERS' EYES 255 

order into our zone of fire. The losses caused by 
our artillery fire were consequently large. _-, One 
must, however, acknowledge the skill with which 
the English rapidly consolidated captured posi- 
tions. 

" The English infantry showed great tenacity 
in defence. This was especially noticeable in the 
case of small parties, which, when once established 
with machine-guns in the corner of a wood or a 
group of houses, were very difficult to drive out." 

After dismissing the infantry, he deals with the 
artillery : 

' Particularly noticeable was the high percentage 
of medium and heavy guns with the artillery, which, 
apart from this, was numerically far superior to 
ours. The ammunition has apparently improved 
considerably. 

' All our tactically important positions were 
methodically bombarded by the English artillery, 
as well as all known infantry and battery positions. 
Extremely heavy fire was continuously directed on 
the villages situated immediately behind the firing 
line, as well as on all natural cover afforded by the 
ground. Registration and fire control were assisted 
by well-organized aerial observation. All night 
the villages were also frequently bombarded by 
aeroplanes." 

To the air he pays his highest compliment : 

' The numerical superiority of the enemy s airmen, 
and the fact that their machines were better, were 
made disagreeably apparent to us, particularly in 



256 WITH THE BRITISH ON THE SOMME 

their direction of the enemy s artillery fire and bomb- 
dropping. 

" The number of our battle-planes was also too 
small. The enemy's airmen were often able to fire 
successfully on our troops with machine-guns by 
descending to a height of a few hundred yards. 
The German anti-aircraft gun sections could not 
continue firing at that height without exposing 
their own troops to serious danger from fragments 
of shell. This has produced a desire for the anti- 
aircraft defences to be supplemented by machine- 
guns ; these must, if necessary, be supplied from 
the reserve stocks. A further lesson to be learnt 
from this surprisingly bold procedure on the part 
of the English airmen is that the infantry make too 
little use of their rifles as a means of driving off 
aircraft." 

Only at the end of this long screed does he come 
to the question that most interests all soldiers, 
the question of food. He writes as ingenuously 
as any of his men might speak : 

" All troops were unanimous in their request for 
increased supplies of bread, rusks, sausage, tinned 
sausages, tinned fat, bacon, tinned and smoked meat, 
and tobacco in addition. There was also urgent 
need for solidified alcohol for the preparation of 
hot meals. In various quarters the necessity for a 
plentiful supply of liquid refreshments of all kinds 
— such as coffee, tea, cocoa, and mineral waters — 
is emphasized still more. On the other hand, the 
supply of salt herrings, which increase the thirst, 
was found to be, as a general rule, very undesirable. 



THROUGH PRISONERS' EYES 257 

There is no necessity for an issue of alcoholic drink 
in warm and dry weather. 

" Similar requests for improved rations, suited 
to the prevailing conditions, when in position, were 
made by the artillery." 

Von Armin was himself relieved before the end 
of the Somme, but we saw the fulfilment of several 
of his recommendations ; and never was the food 
better than in the trenches taken on 13th and 14th 
November. Germany always gives her soldiers the 
best. Civilians may starve if they please ; but 
the more food, the better soldier, is a recognized 
military maxim. 

How different was Von Armin' s mood from that of 
a wireless message sent to New York during July ! 
It ran thus : 

" The great allied offence is the most sanguine 
during the whole war, and is generally considered 
ended with awful loss of men mainly in the 
English ranks and only inconsiderable gain — 
three kilometres of front line held by one German 
division which retired to second trench 800 metres 
back. German military experts are jubilant because 
a minimal gain has resulted. The gigantic efforts 
of the Allies really constitute incontestable proof 
of the invincibility of Germany. German war 
correspondents, who thus far have kept rather 
silent on developments on the Western front during 
the last few days, this morning publish a lot of 
details and harrowing incidents of the most terrible 
man-to-man battling that ever took place in this or 
any other war. Osborn Invoss tells of mighty 

17 



258 WITH THE BRITISH ON THE SOMME 

English gas attacks. The Germans just managed 
to adjust their gas masks, when the English were 
discovered creeping in dense mass through swaying 
mist on to German lines. Quickly the German 
artillery was notified, which directed a terrific 
curtain-fire behind on the creeping English lines. 
The Germans jumped out of their trenches, hiding 
behind parapets just in time. The enemy, to his 
great astonishment, finding the trenches empty, 
jumped into them. Germans arose from behind 
parapets and rained bombs upon the utterly sur- 
prised enemy below. The English too had bombs 
and flung them from below on the Germans. The 
slaughter was awful. Soon the stock of these 
missiles was exhausted on both sides. Germans 
jumped into trenches. Spent English managed to 
crawl out. Terrific carnage and struggle with rifle 
and bayonet among men who could not even see 
each other's faces as both parties were still wearing 
the gas masks which made them look more like 
grotesquely disguised merrymakers than warriors 
bent upon killing each other. And still dense 
waves of gas came sweeping on, which must have 
confounded the English artillery, for they rained 
shells upon their own men. 

" There was no way against this cold' unmerciful 
German rifle fire ; and machine-guns popping up in 
places where they thought life had been utterly 
extinguished by preceding English cannonade had 
panicky effect upon the few men not mowed down 
by them. Either their reserves would arrive too 
late or not at all. Their young inexperienced officers 
lacked decision often, and did not know how to 



THROUGH PRISONERS' EYES 259 

act, which uncertainty was communicated to the 
men. When reaching enemy's wire entanglements, 
they often found them fully intact and trenches 
full of troops ready with the rifle and machine-guns 
where they promised to walk over. Fearful losses 
under these circumstances were so obtrusively 
obvious that most prisoners mention fantastic figure 
losses. One captain said English losses during 
the first two days' offensive, according to generally 
accepted estimate among officers, amounted from 
80,000 to 100,000. All agreed their own artillery 
responsible for many of their casualties. These 
terrific losses have considerably stunned them. 
Those otherwise keen young fellows became dis- 
heartened by the surprising experience of the last 
few days. While the captives deplore the war, 
they are nevertheless convinced that England 
cannot lose. An elderly officer of large experience, 
and widely travelled, was convinced that the war 
would end in a draw. Subalterns were still wrapped 
in English arrogance ; and while admitting the failure 
of the offensive, clung to the effect of the blockade 
which is bound to bring Germany to her knees 
sooner or later. All express the highest admiration 
for the German General Staff, which seemed to 
know more about English movements than their 
own generals." 

The offensive continued four full months after 
this was written, and the Germans lost to us and 
the French 80,000 prisoners and suffered at least 
200,000 casualties. 



CHAPTER XV 
THE FINAL FIELD 

IN the later part of the battle of the Somme, 
after we took Le Sars, some way down the slope 
whose crown we had set out to win, progress was 
stayed except along the highland south of the Ancre, 
where the 5th Army, who had been attacking more as 
the 4th Army attacked less, had taken the Schwaben 
and Stuff Redoubts and Regina Trench by almost 
daily attacks. 

The rain fell day after day, drowning all oppor- 
tunity for greater operations ; and we knew that 
one greater operation was planned. Day after 
day the date was postponed. At headquarters 
weather charts for fifty years back had been studied ; 
and October was found to carry a bad record. In 
19 16 she surpassed her old ill-records ; and soldiers 
began to pray for November as if a change in name 
would involve a change in nature. Soon the change 
came. The days were too short and dark for a 
reform of the terrain. A dirty and sticky battle- 
field was certain ; but if the ground became at all 
passable, the new attack was to be attempted. 
The 1st of July was recalled in many respects, 

though the contrast in appearance was altogether 

260 






THE FINAL FIELD 261 

abrupt. The horizon shrank. The trees were bare. 
The ladder was taken down from a favourite observa- 
tion tree. Shells penetrated deeply before exploding. 
Though the air was usually populous with aircraft, 
they could often see little. Yet the general 
change was not great. As you walked to the old 
observation point to see Beaumont-Hamel the 
shrapnel pattered down over the same stretch of 
road, and the high explosive whined on its way 
towards an alleged battery on the right. Once 
again, as on ist July and again on 3rd September, 
we were about to make a frontal attack on the 
old German front line ; and once again, day and 
night, our guns drummed. Each hour of each day 
the noise battered the ear. The sound was as 
constant as the touch of the atmosphere. Near 
the front it killed all sleep ; and ten, even twenty, 
miles behind men woke to wonder what giant 
event the tumult portended. Groups of citizens 
in towns and women labourers in the village, farther 
off yet from the line, went to their doors to watch 
the winks of light, as of summer lightning, among 
the dusky clouds ; and the shimmer was too constant 
to allow them to count the flashes. 

As the second week of November came near its 
end, we noticed flecks of dust along the high road 
to Albert. " Has it come too late ? " — The question 
was asked in all headquarters ; and the answer was 
that it was late, but not too late. 

On the morning of ist July a soft and delicate 
mist, bediamonded by the sun, half concealed and 
half revealed the pillars of smoke and bodies of 
moving men. On the morning of 13th November 



262 WITH THE BRITISH ON THE SOMME 

a heavy, clammy fog blotted out your very neigh- 
bour, and dawn itself, which followed the opening 
of battle at near an hour's interval, was a secret 
performance. Soldiers lost touch with their neigh- 
bours before they had travelled a hundred yards, 
and stumbled over posts, scraggy with broken wire, 
into the very arms of shivering Germans. 

How much we lost and how much we gained by 
the gloom no one may tell. It added to the 
surprise, it diminished initial casualties, but it 
hindered every detail in the organization of attack ; 
and doubtless tactical blunders were committed 
by small units of the Naval Division unused to such 
land conditions. But the sum was good. The ist 
of July was avenged, and never before had prisoners 
flowed into our cages in such mass and with so woe- 
begone an air of utter defeat. From Beaumont- 
Hamel to the Ancre one wave after the other swept 
across these boasted defences and flooded the two 
villages of Beaumont-Hamel and of Beaucourt. 

A terrible and vain battle with the mud was 
engaged north of this by a famous division, and 
north again Shropshire troops won trenches by 
skill and daring ; but the battle, which coped the 
battle of the Somme, and won a further stretch of 
the two-year- old fortress, was chiefly in the charge 
of two divisions, one a naval division, fighting its 
virgin battle, the other a Scottish division. 

The naval men moved along the Ancre, with 
their right resting on the river, their left on an 
imaginary line — often disregarded — separating them 
from the Scots. In the foggy gloom of 6 a.m. 
on 13th November the first waves went over, 



THE FINAL FIELD 263 

each carefully instructed to seize and occupy such 
and such a trench, and let succeeding waves go 
through them to such another objective ; but it 
was not a day, and the men were not the men for 
precise and mathematical manoeuvres. Like some 
of the heroes whose names they fought under, the 
Drakes, Hawkes, and the rest won more by their 
spirit than by their learning. " They made tactical 
mistakes," said a general, " but did all, and more 
than, they had to do." 

In a battle where every man fought nobly for 
the honour of his regiment and his country one 
individual act of leadership stands out in peculiar 
distinctness. Colonel Freiberg, already known for 
an adventurous career of his own choosing, and 
famous for a single-handed adventure in Gallipoli, 
was in command of the unit that advanced 
along the north bank of the River Ancre. He 
was wounded in the first rush over the parapet, but 
he had no intention of missing the great adventure 
for the handicap of a mere wound. He had seen 
many sorts of battles in different places. At one 
time he had found excitement in gun-running ex- 
ploits in Mexico. He had won medals and distinc- 
tion in Gallipoli ; but a greater opportunity was 
now to his hand ; he had the Nelson chance of 
putting the telescope to his blind eye. 

The troops on his left were held up, but between 
him and them ran, roughly parallel with the line 
of advance, a friendly spur that cut off the spray 
of any raking machine-guns. Under its lee and 
along the south-easterly slope the attack prospered. 
Hundred yards was added to hundred yards ; 



264 WITH THE BRITISH ON THE SOMME 

trench after trench passed and cleared. At one 
place the advance was a sort of leap-frog. As one 
line took a trench a fresh wave jumped their ditch 
and made forward to the next stopping-place. It 
was as if Jellicoe popped his hand on St. Vincent's 
shoulder. 

But formal plans seldom survive unbroken the 
shock of battle. Elsewhere the impulse to chase 
the enemy or to get to grips — to board him — 
was overwhelming, and any medley of Drakes or 
Hawkes or who not raced forward together in 
common rivalry. 

After fourteen hours' fighting — from the gloom 
of 6 a.m. to the darkness of 8 p.m. — this naval 
flotilla had crossed a mile of the roughest sea any 
sailor ever knew, and occupied a line of trenches and 
shell holes well within striking distance of Beaucourt 
village. Nor was this all. Three machine-guns 
were pushed forward well beyond this line, and, 
still insatiate, the wounded doctor-colonel-gun- 
runner-sailor-soldier asked leave to go on and 
attack the village. His men were at least iooo 
yards in front of the companies on the left, en- 
deavouring to advance across the north-westerly 
slope, and the position was essentially improper, 
as the edge of victory usually is. Everything 
suggested defence, not defiance. Numbers were 
not great. The men had fought like tigers without 
rest, and the majority were either out of action or 
in occupation of posts and trenches, or had gone 
back to hand over prisoners to little squads of 
cavalry. 

But " the little Revenge ' meant to run on. 



THE FINAL FIELD 265 

The better part of an assaulting battalion, say 500 
men, was made up, swept together, and set in 
order. It amounted, perhaps, to three companies, 
with another in support. The night was well spent 
in organization. There were no counter-attacks. 
The men were keen ; and though the left of the 
division was held up and machine-guns rattled 
out from a redoubt at least 1000 yards in the rear, 
the order was issued to advance to the storming of 
the village. 

Once again at six o'clock in the cold and dark of 
the hour before dawn " we up-ped and at -ted 'em." 
The fight was not a da}/ old before legends began 
to crystallize round the deeds of the leader. They 
were told in the trenches, in billets, and in the messes 
of the great. It was roundly asserted that he went 
on a hundred and fifty yards in front of the regi- 
ment and then stopped with a start. " Dear me," 
he said, " I believe I forgot to tell the men to follow 
me." But there is no need to call in rumour to 
stuff out the true myth of this adventure. The 
cold, simple, historical truth is that Beaucourt 
was stormed, taken by storm, occupied throughout 
its length and breadth in rather less than twenty 
minutes. 

Just at first here and there a German post held, 
and a trench garrison faced the bomb and the 
bayonet. But no part of the onset was arrested. 
The gallant colonel and his men went across the 
village in manoeuvre form and made good an 
almost semicircular trench round the far side of 
their precious jewel. 

They could now count their gains and losses, 



266 WITH THE BRITISH ON THE SOMME 

lick their wounds, and reckon the victory. The 
colonel had received his fourth wound, and the 
ranks were smaller, though not a great deal smaller. 
The assault had been too quick and complete to be 
costly. The most obvious and least manageable 
booty was the concourse of prisoners. Though 
some enemy were seen bolting, the majority sur- 
rendered and were hurried back before they could 
be seen clearly enough to tempt their own guns. 
Beaucourt was another Courcellette, captured just 
as quickly and as an appendix, an afterthought, 
to the first victory. 

The colonel stands out as clear a figure of the 
true fighting man as the Guardsman, Colonel John 
Vaughan Campbell, who blew his silver hunting- 
horn to the rally over the trenches by Lesbceufs — 
" Dauntless the slug-horn to his lips he set." If on 
this occasion the instrument was no more than a 
whistle it blew a note as silver as any " on Font- 
arabian echoes borne " in the times of Charlemagne 
romance. 

On the left of the Naval Division fought a number 
of Scottish regiments who won laurels as green as 
any in their annals ; and that is to say much. 
They were given the hardest task on the front ; 
and their capture of Beaumont-Hamel and Y-ravine 
yields to no event in the war. Both were taken 
by storm within twelve hours — between 6 a.m. and 
6 p.m. on 13th November — though they were 
super-fortresses, defended by large garrisons as 
heavily armed and munitioned as the men wished, 
and connected by tunnels with reserve depots of 
supplies and reinforcements. 



THE FINAL FIELD 267 

Y-ravine is a serpent nearly half a mile long. 
The mouth of the serpent is wide open, its lips 
almost reaching the old front line of German trenches 
guarding the approach to Beaumont-Hamel. When 
the storming party advanced through the fog and 
reached the first German trench there poured from 
the mouth such a rush of flame that even these 
Scotsmen, where they directly fronted the blast, 
were forced to pause. The attack stopped dead 
at this point, but at this point only, and by a bold 
dash up to the very skirts of their own bursting 
shells, the troops just south of the ravine rushed 
one trench after another. At an early hour in the 
morning they had reached a point level with 
Beaumont-Hamel itself, and hammered blows on 
the body of the monster. 

North of the ravine the fighting was yet harder 
and progress rather slower. But north and south 
the troops, not content with reaching their own 
special goal, attacked the flanks of the ravine along 
which they advanced. At 10 a.m. a platoon or so 
of men had forced a way into the stem of the letter 
Y, below the open mouth. All this part of the 
chasm is a terrible place to attack. It is made 
for defence. At the worst the sides are 30 feet deep, 
as straight as a cliff, as carious and treacherous 
as a slag heap. Dugouts are cut into the cliff, 
some capacious enough to hold almost a battalion, 
and so roofed as to defy artillery. 

From the upper jaw of the gape a tunnel leads 
away back to the third line. The men who swarmed 
down the sides into the stem of the Y — or body of 
the snake — found themselves sandwiched. A large 



268 WITH THE BRITISH ON THE SOMME 

force, continually reinforced via the tunnel, held the 
jaw, and other enemy, also in touch with rein- 
forcements, held the tail. These Scotsmen had won 
their way to the neighbourhood of this enviable 
position between an enemy's pincers by hard 
individual fighting organized spontaneously on the 
field. " It was a soldiers' battle," said a general, 
not without pride. He preferred that the credit 
should go rather to the men than the staff. 

Every man helped his neighbour ; and soon the 
fruits of such soldiership were gathered. Between 
twelve and one midday the Germans, finding them- 
selves bombed on both sides, surrendered — just 
over 300 filed out in one group. 

Incidents in the capture of prisoners were legion. 
A young officer, who had pushed through to a very 
distant point far in front of the rest, lost all his 
men but two, and they were sent off to guard ap- 
proaches. He himself walked to the door of a 
battalion headquarters and told the German staff 
that they were his prisoners. They accepted his 
assertion, but, discovering his loneliness, lured him 
into an inner room and politely suggested that the 
position was reversed. He was the prisoner and 
they the captors. The interpretation was as politely 
accepted. 

Now this inner room was fitted with a giant 
periscope, and the face of the German who was 
revolving it soon began to grow longer and longer. 
" British soldiers are all round us," he said at last, 
and at the word the Scots lieutenant quietly proposed 
to the room that the original position should be 
restored. " As you were." The first assertion, 



THE FINAL FIELD 269 

after all, was the right one. They were Ms prisoners. 
Throughout the incident and after it the German in 
command bore himself with a certain dignity and 
courtesy. His captive-captor said of him that 
" he behaved as a gentleman." 

Good work, even in the capture of prisoners, was 
done by the signallers, many of whom went forward 
with the first wave. One of them found himself 
all alone and wounded at the mouth of a crowded 
German dugout. By way of occupation he told 
the men they were his prisoners, and then, using 
the telephone strapped round his body, called for 
assistance and guides for the prisoners. 

The whole battle — this soldiers' battle — was 
marked by unnumbered episodes of individual 
personal acts of dash and coolness. Some men were 
too cool. They stopped to light German cigars, to 
taste the excellent food or don the enemy's helmets — 
which they wore hilariously for the rest of the day. 
One man, who discovered an ordnance store, de- 
liberately changed his damp and muddy shirt for a 
clean German garment from the packets. 

Our artillery was much more intense and more 
accurate than on ist July, though here and there 
little bits of wire were undestroyed. Everywhere 
in the near neighbourhood of a trench the ground 
was like a Gruyere cheese. Beaumont-Hamel itself 
was pounded to the highest pitch of powerful 
precision, and the loss of observation on the day of 
battle made little difference to the accuracy of the 
final barrage. 

Some of the nests, apart from their human 
occupants, were worth robbing. One food dump 



270 WITH THE BRITISH ON THE SOMME 

contained excellent butter, white bread, tinned 
hams, soda-water, and other luxuries. Cigars were 
" frequent and free," and the ordnance stores seem 
to have been of good quality. One brigade took 
54 machine-guns and I heavy mortar. 

I have left the rest of the battle iooo yards and 
more in the rear. The right wing of the advance 
had been screened, as by a spur of the rise ; but 
the left and centre were fully exposed to the mini- 
strations of a redoubt peculiarly powerful and well 
placed, the same redoubt possibly that had caused 
the bitterest losses on ist July. The redoubt just 
swells above the earth and wire like the back of a 
whale out of the water. It is roofed with rein- 
forced concrete. Below it is capacious and well 
equipped with stores and the mechanism of defence. 
It has three chief exits, to which ladders lead. 
Dovetailed into the slope of the hill, its emplace- 
ments can rake the whole face of the country west 
and north ; and nothing could live in its planes of 
fire. You would have said that no troops could 
pass it ; but after continuous efforts on all sides 
various groups forced their way past, and irregular 
lines were won and made firm some distance 
beyond, while this monster was still nursed in the 
bosom of our position. Runners took back messages 
of a " nest " or " pocket " left uncleared. It was 
much more than that. It was a fortress, unharmed 
and not quite invested. 

But it was not impregnable. Monster was to 
meet monster. Towards seven in the evening an 
inconspicuous carapace, a great sluggish, grunting 
beetle, was seen by the German garrison wriggling 



THE FINAL FIELD 271 

very slowly forward in arcs and at tangents, care- 
fully avoiding any wounded who lay in its path. 
As if the scent was not good, though just sufficient, 
it nosed slowly forward, along and over the old 
German front trench. Earlier, an infantry officer 
was observed urging it on, like a master talking to 
an undecided bloodhound. 

After many minutes it approached so near its 
crouching prey that it could surrender scent for 
sight. It prepared for action. What this dragon 
of the slime did, what flames came from its mouth, 
what threats were roared, I must not say in precise 
detail. But it did and threatened enough. Out 
of one of the mouths of the earth and concrete 
fortress appeared a white cloth waved on a stick. 
Not so much as a hand or arm was visible, but the 
flag of surrender waved. Firing ceased and the 
beast bellowed no more, but allowed its myrmidons 
to go forward and accept the surrender. Presently, 
crouching there, it watched nearly twenty score 
Germans file out, draw up in rank, and march back 
across the old front line. Good beast, it had done 
its part. Not what the infantry had done, but 
good service — good service. 

Of the thousand and one episodes of this sphere of 
battle, none is more unofficial, more English, than 
the collecting of prisoners by a member of the 
force who had accompanied the rest as a super- 
numerary. After having gathered in several groups, 
he found the work becoming too extensive for his 
individual energies, so he formed a little limited 
company from his friends and together they de- 
veloped the business rapidly. They were even 



272 WITH THE BRITISH ON THE SOMME 

accused of stealing 400 prisoners from the next 
division ! 

In regard to the prisoners the German wireless 
account brought out one charming point. It reported 
the appearance of British cavalry behind the 
infantry and conjectured that they were waiting 
to break through. The truth is that they were 
isolated groups preparing to act as escort to pro- 
spective prisoners ; and they did not prove too 
numerous for the job. A number of the horses were 
in a lather and had done pretty well all they were 
capable of before noon. 

Below the Ancre the attack moving down from 
the highlands as well as along the river was easier 
and not less complete. Perhaps no engagement 
in the war gained us more solid advantage at less 
cost. We had excellent observation for the previous 
preparations, so that the artillery crumpled up the 
river road, continually shrapnelled the culverts 
and bridges across the stream, and finally blew 
into the air the machine-gun emplacements and 
caches. When our men went over the parapet and 
forward to the attack, in the muggy obscurity of 
this autumn morning, neither they nor the enemy 
could see anything. 

And the enemy was not altogether alert. His 
infantry, his machine-gunners, and in some measure 
his artillery were caught napping, or if ready, not 
ready to fight. At the moment the 223rd Division 
was relieving the 30th, which had been fifteen days 
in the trenches, so that the German garrison was 
for the moment very much bigger than usual, and 
perhaps for that reason less watchful. Our bombs, 



THE FINAL FIELD 273 

which we used in great quantity, fell into crowded 
trenches. Hundreds of the enemy's wounded, 
whom I afterwards met smiling contentedly in our 
hospitals or munching biscuits in our clearing 
stations, had bomb and grenade wounds, such 
wounds as the rest did not mean to have. Few 
waited for the bayonet. Hands went up as freely 
as the oars at a regatta salute, and 1300 soldiers 
with 29 officers were counted in the collecting 
station reserved for this single part of the attack 
before the fight was many hours old. 

You would have said that the enemy had made 
themselves ready for their approaching migration. 
Many of the soldiers wore their coats, and a good 
number took from their pockets large stores of 
cigarettes. The officers carried complete packs ; 
and some were a little insolent, because better 
rooms had not been provided them for the un- 
packing of their goods. It was explained to them 
that it is wiser on going to a new hotel among a 
foreign people to write or wire the news of your 
arrival. 

The men evinced a very different temper from 
the officers. Following the general rule among 
prisoners, they at once began asking questions about 
the probable duration of the war. One of them, 
whose opinion seemed to be popular, said that any- 
way the war was over for Germany and he meant 
to set about liking England again as quickly as 
possible. 

Even more remarkable than the attack was the 
sequel. Immediately after the trenches down to 
the river had been captured our men strolled about 
18 



274 WITH THE BRITISH ON THE SOMME 

above ground as if they were out for an airing. They 
picked up relics. They shared out German cigars 
and sat on parapets smoking, and enjoyed to the 
hilt, for the little while that it lasted, the serenity of 
the battle-field. All the while the fight was raging 
furiously across the river ; but the rush of the 
naval men had carried the battle almost beyond 
the line of the troops on the south. 

The battle of the Somme was virtually over. 
During the next few days we shoved forward on the 
south of the Ancre and rounded off our victories 
on the north, taking more prisoners. But a week 
later we had settled down to winter quarters. The 
fullest page in British history was turned. 

The sense of winter was over all armies. On 
the last day of November, the end of the fifth month 
of fighting that had cost the Germans and the French 
and ourselves nearly a million and a half of 
casualties, I wrote with the emotion of finality 
strong on the senses : 

" The murk that has settled down over the 
country has added the last touch of brutality to 
battle-fields always incredibly brutal. Perhaps the 
silence helps. Few and fewer shells whine through 
the fog, and more and more of the few thump into 
the mud without explosion. All the firing is blind ; 
and perhaps for that reason each shell fuller of fear ; 
for the finer courage is debased into fatalism and 
mere reliance on the law of average. And in the 
mud and mist you notice the details of the battle-field 
in more particular detail, now that the general view 
is cut off and all ground is dead ground. 



THE FINAL FIELD 275 

" The great crater by Beaumont- Hamel looks like 
the bed of an emptied lake strewn with the bodies 
and bits of the bodies of its old denizens. Here we 
blew up a quantity of German dugouts tunnelled 
into the side of the older crater ; and the successive 
tons of explosive, besides doing their deadly work, 
have altered the very landscape. Close by, at the 
bottom of a trench, the Germans lie head to heel 
strung out in a line where they rushed from the 
escape mouth of their dugout into a cascade of 
bombs and perhaps an enfilading rifle. Egg-bombs 
and oyster-bombs and hairbrush bombs are scattered 
everywhere — small refuse left, it might be, by a 
receding tide, along with the burden of mud-drowned 
bodies. 

" Day after day and night after night our burial 
parties have been at work. At any moment you 
may meet the padre returning with his group of men 
from the latest field burial. The business is nearly 
done, but it never quite ends. The Germans lived 
in this quarter for two years, working all the time, 
and left more caves than could be reckoned in a 
day, even if the shells had not rootled in the trough 
of mud and rubbish for five months. Stores and 
tombs still lie undiscovered, and diggers a century 
hence will still find discs and chains that were to 
announce the identity of the victims. 

"The power of ugliness could no further go. 
Everything visible or audible or tangible to the 
senses — to touch, smell, and perception — is ugly 
beyond imagination. The hanks of wrenched and 
rotted wire suggest that the very soil has turned into 
a sort of matter hostile to all kindly productiveness. 



276 WITH THE BRITISH ON THE SOMME 

And so will the waste look till spring comes and 
proves that after all fertility lives. Indeed, lest mere 
disgust and despair |should be bred by the spectacle 
of ruin, nature is already sending a message of 
spring, a miracle of the season. 

" The miracle is this : that the battered trees, just 
now as bare as telegraph poles, are putting out young, 
green leaves ; and in one place great comfrey leaves 
even now conceal the very whereabouts of a trench 
we pounded and captured during this battle of the 
Soiume." 



CHAPTER XVI 
EPILOGUE 

THE battle of the Somme was over, and all 
the world had leisure to review it and inter- 
pret its meaning. The cannons bellowed 
still. The stream of men went down to the sea 
and flowed back with the tide. The aeroplanes 
hummed overhead. Generals met in conference. 
Intelligence officers gathered news of the enemy. 
Deserters, if not prisoners, slowly filtered back. 
Engineers were if possible busier than ever. 

But everywhere you knew that battle, real battle, 
was over till such time as the soaked ground should 
give up its excess of moisture to the attraction of 
longer sunlight. Leave was longer. Tired nurses 
took medical leave in the South of France, and 
throughout the hospitals, doctors, though busy with 
such maladies as trench feet, could take a full 
night's rest and have time to review their work. 
At last all of us began to have time to ask the 
meaning of what we had seen and felt during five 
months of life too quick and changeful for any 
perspective. 

While the battle raged the mechanism of battle, 

the murder of the battle-field, the drama of par- 
ay; 



278 WITH THE BRITISH ON THE SOMME 

ticular deeds, corporate and individual, filled the 
mind. A great gun I often visited shot so hard 
that the whole of its weighty platform, sunk into 
the solid ground, retreated by the whole width of its 
base. I could see the many hundredweight of its 
shell careering like a ghostly curse German-wards, 
and the force of the recoil, pushing back the solid 
earth, stood to me for symbol of the mass of buttress 
the building of such a battle demanded. It needed 
the bulk of a nation to push forward such a monster 
and hold it there. Guns and aeroplanes and 
balloons and bombs and gas cylinders were forced 
on the mind's eye as clearly as that strange chain 
dragged by Marley's ghost before the frightened 
eyes of Scrooge. 

The battle-field was as impressive, as insistent. 
Week after week the miles of murdered country- 
side — dismantled woods, dis - housed villages, 
disembowelled fields — were burnt into the vision. 
Silhouettes of upright fragments — a bit of gaping 
roof leaning against a tumbling wall in Mametz ; a 
twisted stanchion bridging the hole of an uprooted 
tree in Maurepas, the Tank crossing a trench in 
Thiepval — such desolate pictures uprose before 
the sleeping and waking mind. 

Everyday tales of derring do were told. So 
many were these, so strange, so Olympian, that you 
lost the men in the drama, and pursuing the plot 
forgot the character. An airman hit with the wing 
of his plane the wire holding a balloon, and the 
wire penetrated the wing and held firm against 
the rib. The pace of the machine, the slant of the 
wire, the strength of the hold sent the plane circling 



EPILOGUE 279 

round and round its tie, and at the same time 
sliding to the ground, where at last it landed safe. 
What chance has psychology or thought of tend- 
encies, or even sentiment and emotion, against 
stirring tales of this sort ! 

At last the mind was released by winter rest 
and stirred to other thoughts by the entry of a 
new year. At once it swung back to things more 
essential than machines or pictures or events, 
and could see that the crowning marvel of the 
Somme was man. The British Army may have 
made many score of mistakes. Commanders 
ordered men to attack unbroken wire, gunners fired 
at their own trenches, engineers miscalculated 
dump areas, infantry fired at one another in the 
woods or lost their way foolishly or left the burden 
to their neighbours j but were the mistakes in 
tactics multiplied indefinitely it would still remain 
that the crowning wonder and triumph of the battle 
of the Somme was the British Army itself. 

The battle was opened by troops from the British 
Isles and one battalion from our oldest colony ; 
but before its end all the Empire had taken part. 
The South Africans fought a seven days' deadly 
struggle in Delville Wood. The Australians took 
Pozieres and fought a yet tougher battle against 
the mud near Warlencourt. The New Zealanders 
did their own work and much of their neighbours c 
to the west of Gueudecourt, always winning and 
minimising casualties by virtue of mere pluck and 
quickness. The Canadians took over from the 
Australians and later captured trenches and villages 
with the impetus of French troops at their best . 



280 WITH THE BRITISH ON THE SOMME 

Even some few Indians were engaged in that small 
and dashing cavalry adventure south of High 
Wood. The Irish along the Ancre and at Ginchy, 
the Welsh at Mametz, and the Scotch everywhere 
and always proved their best racial qualities. From 
Mametz on ist July to Beaumont- Hamel on 13th 
November we won trenches, villages, woods, redoubts 
by virtue of the native virtues of grit, self-reliance, 
obstinacy, and good sense. 

If one were to examine the public, the readers of 
newspapers and war books on the achievements of 
the war, they would all have in their memory some 
fine deed by the Irish, the Scotch, the Australians, 
the Canadians, and the rest. How many would 
quote you the achievement of any purely English 
unit ? 

But no record of the battle, of the war, is true 
that does not give credit to the English for native 
virtues as potent and constant and distinct as any 
district in the world possesses. English troops 
have been the cement of the battle. " Thank God 
for the Staffordshire miners." " By happy fortune 
we followed some good old county troops who had 
done their trenches properly." "These English 
troops always 'stick it."' Such little phrases I 
have heard day after day through the long warfare. 
And when you are among troops from overseas or 
any local regiment you find among them a thicken- 
ing of pure Englishmen, especially among the 
corporals — the place a man reaches because he is 
to be trusted, not because he is clever or pushful 
or big. 
Doubtless one county differs from another, 



EPILOGUE 281 

and a great gulf is fixed between the townsman 
and the countryman, between the Cockney and 
the Wilts labourer. But they claim a common 
quality of taking things as they come, they doing 
their job without advertisement, without self- 
congratulation, and often with a very pretty turn 
of quiet humour. The Cockneys in High Wood, 
the Bedfords at the Quadrilateral, the War wicks, 
Gloucesters, Wilts, Sussex, Surrey, Kents and the 
rest round Thiepval, went through the fight and 
came out of it without loss of fibre or increase of 
pride. 

Those of us who spoke to these troops almost daily 
as they came out or went into action felt this English 
quality as it cannot be felt outside the area of battle. 
The highest thrills I associate with Australians, 
Canadians, and Scotch. Their deeds and emotions 
remain the most salient in the memory, and yet the 
battle in retrospect is essentially English. One has 
the impression that the English gave the others their 
chance to shine, as a pack of good, indistinguishable 
forwards give the openings to the half and three- 
quarter backs, whose names and features are known 
to every other spectator. 

You observe this quality more perhaps in billets 
than in the trench. Indeed, sometimes even the 
sight of a battle, of infantry advancing in the open, 
and great shells bursting in front of you, and indeed 
at intervals around you, is less moving than the 
subsequent tale of the fight as told by Englishmen 
who have just come out. 

Very tired, very modest, and very glad of rest, 
they tumble into their billets ; and there, in barns 



282 WITH THE BRITISH ON THE SOMME 

or houses or huts or tents, they bless their stars for a 
few quiet days ; and under pressure will confess that 
the fight was "a bit stiff, though nothing excep- 
tional/ ' They might be at home in peace-time. 
Then slowly they begin to recall and discuss incidents 
which for the first time do seem even to themselves 
a little remarkable. 

The best of the English soldier is that he never 
feels himself a hero. You would have thought that 
the old county troops who took hill trenches and 
beat the Prussian Guard on the Thiepval slope would 
have been conscious of some exultation ; but most 
of them chiefly felt pride, I think, in the individual 
feats of others. One of these (from that desperate 
artillery fighting south of Thiepval on 26th July) was 
one of the very strangest in the war. It is the tale 
of a runner. There is no one more calmly persistent 
in doing his job than these English runners. On 
this night one of them was sent back from our newly 
taken trench with an important message at a time 
when the German bombardment was peculiarly 
fast and furious. The Wilts and Worcesters, from 
whose ranks he came, were being pounded with all 
the weight of metal that the enemy could command ; 
and his artillery has never been stronger. 

The runner passed through unscathed, and pre- 
sently returned with an answer. He had twice passed 
through the curtain of howitzer fire. Indeed, the 
shells had fallen in such profusion during his absence 
that the landscape was quite changed. The trenches 
that had been signposts were battered to the state 
of confusing pits and paths. 

The runner thought his journey was unduly pro- 



EPILOGUE 283 

longed, but he went on — that was his business — and 
in reward presently came to a trench. Being cautious 
as well as courageous, he looked in before leaping, 
and saw, not good, kind Englishmen, but crouching 
Prussians packed tight beneath a frieze of bayonets. 
The sight was enough to sate his curiosity, and he 
retired again in safety. His experience was instantly 
reported to the artillery, and immediately our heavy 
shells followed the example of the runner and also 
looked into the Prussian trench. 

It was the very moment when the Guard — the 
28th Regiment of the Prussian Fusiliers — had decided 
to charge. One wave came over the parapet, and 
as it came was broken here, there, and everywhere. 
Its last ripple faded into flatness 50 yards from 
the trench. A second followed. The last surviving 
unit of it may have travelled 60 yards. No more 
made the venture. The attack was broken. Since 
they caught the Prussians north-east of Contal- 
maison our heavies never did more thorough 
work. 

But the hardship of the battle, the thing that won 
the battle, as the General said, was the extreme 
serenity of the troops under a murderous bombard- 
ment. They were as calm and efficient when it was 
over as when it began. They were weaker only by 
the sum of the actual losses. 

Always the men keep heroism at arm's length. A 
little tough shireman who had done great work in a 
German trench described to me how he had met a 
German " big enough to eat me for breakfast and 
not feel hungry after/ ' Did he go on to describe 
how he David killed this Goliath ? Not at all. He 



284 WITH THE BRITISH ON THE SOMME 

said he was " fair scared, but didn't like to run 
away." And while he was not liking to run away 
the great German put up his hands. 

Nearly all men, perhaps the English more than 
the rest, hate fighting. Among the press of wounded 
men coming back from battle you will find the 
Englishman as a rule plodding on contentedly and 
thinking of his chance of going home, while the 
others are still full of the battle. Especially do I 
remember walking and talking with a stream of 
men coming back from a great fight in July near 
Montauban. Scotch, Irish, and English soldiers all 
swept across a very wide interval between trenches 
in more than international form ; the wounded, 
even the twice-wounded, went forward with the 
hale, and met the enemy waiting for them at the 
first goal-line. Some of the quickest work was done 
by South English troops ; but almost all were inarti- 
culate. Many of the others said memorable things 
and evinced a real joy in hand-to-hand fighting. " It 
makes it a bit cheerier to have a go with the 
bayonet," said a twice-wounded Scotsman, forced 
at last to sit on his haunches and lick his wounds 
before hobbling back through the shells. He used 
this amazing word "cheerier' without the least 
suspicion of humour. 

Another man from overseas who was on his way 
back with a bullet in the forearm and a shell wound 
in the calf said : " One doesn't want to come so 
far and not have a go at 'em with the steel." " So 
far " means a voluntary journey of, I suppose, 
some 12,000 miles. And he added the finest com- 
pliment that any nation could desire, of a sort that 



EPILOGUE 285 

no other nation perhaps has ever received : " It will 
be fine, too, to go home. I've never been there." 

Let Germans who trust to the fostering of seditions 
in the Antipodes and elsewhere study that idiom of 
" home." It will penetrate as deep as did the 
bayonet of the man who had " never been there/' 
but fought for it with a fire beyond the reach of the 
greencoats — tough fighters though they are — who 
knelt on the trench's lip before him crying, " Mercy, 
kamerad, mercy ! " 

The parts of the Empire that are not England 
have contributed to the common stock zeal and talent 
and devotion that have woven the stuff of victory. 
No one who thinks imperially desires distinctions ; 
but we may recognize that the readiness of the 
English to acknowledge and indeed proclaim the 
virtues of all the rest has been the master cause of 
the welding of this varied army into a united force 
moving with one will and intention. Home is home, 
and is called home because of a sort of magnanimous 
modesty in the English people. And that is why 
the refrain of the Hymn of Hate is : England. 



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